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I thank my director Malini Schueller for her patience, guidance, and 
encouragement throughout the writing of this dissertation and my time at UF. 
Gratitude also goes to Stephanie Smith for her conversations, insights, and for 
her sibylline questions during the examination process. I am proud to have 
counted both these exceptional women as my models of responsible and 
engaged intellectuals. I thank my committee members Kim Emery and Louise 
Newman for their invaluable suggestions, and for their encouragement over far 
too few meetings. Special thanks go to Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan for his long- 
distance participation in this project, especially for making it sound infinitely 
more interesting than ever it seemed to me. I am indebted to Julian Wolfreys for 
his intellectual and moral support, his clarity and wit, and his pedagogical 
inspiration. My gratitude goes also to Tace Hedrick, Terry Harpold, and Kenneth 
Kidd for the interest and friendship they have extended to my work and me. 

Support staff in university departments never, ever receive thanks to the 
extent they are due. Therefore I especially appreciate the UF English Department 
secretaries Kathy Williams, Carla Blount, Loretta Dampier, Jeri White, and Sonja 
Moreno who have worked with and helped me during my time here. I am 
happy to have known each of these women as joyful individuals beyond the 
scope of their official tasks. Dissertations result from years of collective work in 
the form of research, conversation, and mutual suffering. I thank Heather 
Marcovitch and Kristin Chancey for food, love, and commiseration to various 
soundtracks. My colleagues and friends Denise Cummings, Fred Young, 
Christina Wolfreys, Brian Doan and Kenneth Chan have provided solace, 
inspiration, and information in equal measure toward the pursuit of the 


fabulous. My especial thanks go to Helen Mallonee for her support and 
continued interest in my work and well-being from the start. 

Family encompasses many permutations, and I am fortunate beyond 
measure to thank those I count among my kith who wandered the doctoral path 
either in kind, or by proximity. Victoria Schooler deserves my eternal love and 
admiration for her exceptional qualities, intellectual and aesthetic. Sue Senhauser, 
Jasmine Griffin, and Cinnamon Bair have extended care and devotion to me and 
my work throughout my college career, and I hope to have deserved both. I am 
proud to have counted Sasha Normand and Lisa Normand as my closest kith 
from my earliest scholastic steps, without whose intellectual inspiration and 
emotional guidance I would not have come this far. My deep appreciation also to 
Jean Melczarek, and to my brothers Hugo and Robert Melczarek. Mostly and 
above all, I thank my wife Tina and Papa who have participated in this degree 
with me at every stage, in every waking moment, and to whom all my work is 
dedicated. My degree is even more theirs than it is mine. 








"Saint" Subaltern? 4 

The Mystic, muteness, Knowing 10 

Mystic(al) Production 14 

The Beginnings of St. Subaltern 17 

Chapter Synopses 22 


Esperanza 28 

Experience 32 

Representation 35 

Jouissance 40 

Esperanza 45 



"Cuba" 53 

Ideology 56 

Why Ideology After the "End of Ideology"? 57 

Contradiction: Marx 60 

The German Ideology to Capital 61 

Marx, Mysticism, Mediation 63 

(Mystical) Alienation 66 

False Consciousness: Engels 68 

Reification: Lukacs 71 

Representation: Althusser 73 

Enjoyment: Zizek 76 

"Cuba" 77 




A Pause for Sartre 86 

'Twilight of Bad Faith: The Second Sex 90 

Situation,Freedom, Alienation 94 

The Mystic 99 

The Mystic as Sexuated Representation 102 

"Night of the Absolute": Black Skin, White Masks 109 

Bad Faith, Neurosis, Alienation 112 

Experience and Representation 115 

Jouissance 119 

Body and Quandary 121 

Possibilities and Problematics 124 


"Beyond the Phallus:" Lacan 128 

Ideology and Jouissance 129 

"Never Not Political" 132 

"Beyond" Alienation 133 

Representation 137 

"Beyond Any Other Feeling:" Irigaray 143 

Language, Hysteria, Alienation 145 

Ideology and Alienation 147 

Jouissance and Representation 149 

Jouissance and Value 154 

Outside, Beyond, Before 155 

Counter-ideological Muteness 158 


Ideology, Hegemony, the Subaltern: Gramsci 165 

Ideology: "Night of Nonknowledge" 169 

A Pause for Foucault 172 

The Subaltern: Alienation and (Non)representation 174 

BhuvaneswariBhaduri/"BhuvaneswariBhaduri" 175 

Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri 181 

"Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri" 184 

Jouissance 187 


Celie 192 

Snug 207 

Celie 210 




Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School 
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the 
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 





Arnold Nicholas Melczarek 

May 2003 

Chair: Malini Johar Schueller 
Major Department: English 

I propose that current literature by women of color in the U.S. and 

various strains of psychoanalytic, Marxist, and feminist theories imply that the 

concept of puissance not only describes women's relations to ideology, but also 

simultaneously and paradoxically indicates a mediation of the elements of 

knowledge, action, experience and representation that comprise ideology. Close 

readings of literary and theoretical texts develop permutations of Karl Marx's 

concept of ideology from "not-know/do" to "not-know/ experience," as well as 

multiple imaginaries of puissance as an element of excess that can be experienced 

but cannot be represented. As analogous but distinct phenomena, ideology and 

puissance inform and determine each other. I show how some Francophone 

existential, psychoanalytic, and feminist theories, and some Francophone and 

Anglophone subaltern theories, explore this claim of the relation of ideology and 

puissance through three specific theoretical tropes: the female mystic as figured 

by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex. Jacques Lacan in femjnajre XX: 

Encore, and Luce Irigaray in Speculum of the Other Woman and This Sex Which 


Ts Not One: the colonized native posited by Frantz Fanon in filack Skin, White 
Masks; and the female subaltern figured by Gayatri Spivak in "Can the Subaltern 
Speak?" Sandra Cisneros' novpl JhP Homp on Man^o Street, Achy Obejas' short 
story "We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?" and 
TVip Color Purple bv Alice Walker illustrate complex strategies of representation 
by which female characters of color come to effect a puissant knowledge of their 
ideological experience. Given my attention to textuality, my discussion also 
works to undo the textuality /materiality opposition imposed by critiques of 
theory's reliance on figuration that leave literary strategies of representation to 
theorize ideology and puissance's mutual mediation nonetheless transparent, 
and show that the distinction is itself an ideological one that misreads the use of 
tropes and figuration in both literature and theory. 





Greatly to my distress, therefore, my raptures began to be talked about. 1 
— St. Teresa of Avila 

Ideology, as classically defined, constitutes a negative relation between 
knowledge and action, which was later permutated into a disjuncture between 
knowledge and experience. Ideology also describes a mechanics of 
representation that has material effects, but that itself escapes or exceeds 
representation. In similar fashion, puissance is typically defined as an excess, 
sexual or otherwise, that can be experienced but cannot be known or 
represented. Conceptually and figuratively, at least, ideology and puissance 
appear to comprise analogous but distinct phenomena. Yet in what ways are 
they related? If they are not only, or more than, simple antitheses of each other, 
how might they inform each other? And if they are both also issues of 
representation, how might they figure or mediate each other? Can their 
ambivalent relation allow one to figure the other? And does the one offer a 
position from which to formulate a knowlege of the other? Since puissance 
appears frequenty as a term in feminist discourses, might puissance entail a 
particular relation to, experience of, or knowledge of ideology for women? 

I propose that current literature by women of color in the U.S. and 
various strains of psychoanalytic, Marxist, and feminist theories imply that the 
concept of puissance not only describes women's relations to ideology, but also 
simultaneously and paradoxically indicate a mediation of the elements of 

1 "Sino que con harta pena mfa se comenzaron a publicar" 


knowledge, action, experience and representation. Ideology and puissance thus 

constitute mutually mediating phenomena within a field of potentiality and 

unrepresentability. Strategies of representing the ostensibly unrepresentable 

thereby effect puissant negotiations of the constituent elements of ideology. 

Certain female figures in literary and theoretical texts inhabit a particularly raced, 

sexed, and classed relation described by the phenomena of ideology and 

puissance, and effect just such mediating strategies of representation. My close 

readings of literary and theoretical texts thus develop permutations of the 

concept of ideology as well as multiple imaginaries of puissance. My selected 

literary texts illustrate complex strategies of representation by which female 

characters of color come to effect a puissant knowledge of their ideological 

experience. I show how some francophone existential, psychoanalytic, and 

feminist theories, and some Francophone and Anglophone subaltern theories, 

explore this claim of the relation of ideology and puissance through particular 

figurations: the female mystic posited by Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Lacan and 

Luce Irigaray; the colonial subject figured by Frantz Fanon; and the female 

subaltern as troped by Gayatri Spivak. 

Yet rather than simply discuss the tropological practices of the works of 

literature and theory that I address, I have developed a tropological figure out of 

them which nevertheless remains irreducible to those works: St. Subaltern. What 

follows is thus a rereading of those works through that very trope. I do so to 

foreground the centrality of figuration to those works' strategies of puissance 

that resist or undo the constituent elements of ideology that those same works 

describe. For these reasons I chose The House on Mango Street by Sandra 

Cisneros, "We Came All The Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?" 

by Achy Obejas, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker as texts that effect 

asymptotes of the sex, race, and class concerns raised by my selected theoretical 

texts, as well as literary texts whose reading through St. Subaltern elaborate each 

other's distinct political and historical inscriptions as jouissant narrative strategies 

to mediate ideology. 

The Fcstasy of St Subaltern thus contributes to studies of Cisneros, Obejas 
and Walker in particular, and of texts by U.S. women of color in general, as 
possible theorizations of the relation between ideology and puissance through 
narrative and figuration that, as narratives, complicate such discussions in ways 
that theory seems unwilling, unable, or insufficient on its own to do. I do not so 
much bring my selected theoretical material to Cisneros, Obejas, and Walker's 
texts as I read those texts through a figure derived from yet irreducible to those 
proposed by de Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan, Irigaray and Spivak. I insist that 
discussions of each of these theoretical writers themselves often focus on matters 
of materiality or referentiality in their acts of figuration at the expense of 
considering the potential of the specific figures as figures that each writer 
produces. I propose that such discussions also underestimate the centrality of 
literary "textuality" to any theorization of praxis, no matter how grounded in 
materiality it is purported to be. My readings thereby also intervene in debates 
of representation tout court by maintaining that representation, as figuration 
and troping, can offer an (admittedly ambivalent) jouissant negotiation of its own 
ideological problem within both theoretical and literary texts. 

By positing both ideology and puissance as mediations of each other, and 
as analogous but irreducible phenomena, my text thereby intervenes in and 
contributes to general discussions of representation, ideology and puissance. In 
the realm of the ostensibly theoretical, I expand discussions of ideology and 
puissance that the respective discourses I trace have either obscured or left 
transparent because their very formulations reproduce disjunctures between 
knowledge, doing, and experience that these discourses themselves describe as 
ideological. Rather than simply commenting on ideology and puissance, my 
series of readings thus seek to unwork two analogous ideological phenomena. 

First, certain critiques of theoretical reliance on figuration impose a hierarchical 

opposition between materiality and textuality that nevertheless treats literary 
strategies of representation as transparent. I indicate that this opposition is itself 
an ideological one that misreads the use of troping and figuration in both 
literature and theory. Simultaneously, I discuss the explicitly U.S. racial literary 
texts I invoke alongside explicitly non-U.S. theoretical texts to undo the 
customary ideological distancing of the two narrative forms while retaining their 
distinctions. I maintain that such a conceptual divide is no less ideological than 
that effected between textuality and materiality. Reading the literariness of 
ostensibly theoretical texts concurrently with the theorizations effected by 
ostensibly literary texts, I aver, is necessary to any conceptualization of the role 
of representation as mediating factor between ideology and puissance. 

"Saint" Subaltern? 
My title plays off my two central theoretical figures: the mystic and the 
subaltern. Ecstasy conventionally posits the mystic in question as female, and 
thereby the concerned subaltern in my title implicitly as well. Ecstasy— ek-stasis 
as Luce Irigaray reminds us — carries simultaneous sexual meaning as well as that 
of something outside the norm, that exceeds stasis, 2 mundum, otKou^eve. Saint 
references those devotional individuals who serve as mediaries between, 
presumably, the stasis and the ek. Yet as the invocation of the subaltern— derived 
from Antonio Gramsci in general and applied by Gayatri Spivak to women in 
specific— reminds us, saint carries also a Marxist sense of mediation. The very 
phrase "the Ecstasy of — " references countless representations in (mostly male- 

2 "Stasis" itself indicates standing, fixity, torpor. The ek-stasis would thereby indicate a 
setting into motion, a drawing or pushing into the "beyond" that surrounds stasis by its own 
immobility, so that "beyond" itself becomes a continually shifting and fluid field of relativity. 
In terms of the known and unknown, the knowable and unknowable, representable and 
unrepresentable, ecstacy indicates an experience of ambivalence: a radical shift of position 
that by the same gesture changes only the point of fixity. This etymological implication itself 
plays out the ambivalences around my projects' topoi of ideology, the mystic, and puissance. It 
also envelops the views I elaborate later of puissance as the excess continually threatened 
with appropriation. 

produced) painting and sculpture of those experiences by sainted mystic women 

of something beyond the world, something that exceeds the material. Those 

paintings and sculptures themselves comprise representations derived from 

those mystic's writings on their experience, their own attempt to represent such 

otherwise unrepresentable experience in the formal structure of language. 

Representations of representations, then, by which those mystics seek the dual 

ends of arriving at a knowledge of their experience, and of representing it to 

others to both evince the reality of the beyond and to edify the reader. 

On to my curious trope: St. Subaltern, the mystic-saint as subaltern, the 

subaltern as mystic-saint. (Where "mystic" indicates a paradoxical relation 

between experience and knowledge that indicates puissant ecstacy and ideology 

as analogous but distinct phenomena within a field of potentiality.) True, the 

referents here invoked, mystic-saint and subaltern, are utterly distinct and 

mutually irreducible. While concern for ontological referents should always 

underlay any such project, the conceptual figures derived from both those 

referents and their accrued discourses, but which exceed them and remain 

irreducible to them, should also be considered. As Srinivas Aravamudan avers, 

"[b]ecause trope is transitive, it swerves from self-adequation to surplus and, 

while doing so, moves from the 'proper and natural' to another meaning 'with 

some advantage'" (1). Thereby, the trope of St. Subaltern partakes of both its 

named constituents but remains irreducible to either one. As a rhetorical gesture, 

St. Subaltern effects a conceptual asymptosis: the drawing together of two 

distinct and singular discourses that continue in closer proximity but never 

actually intersect. As these discursive trajectories draw closer, they influence each 

other's configuration, much like mutually interfering gravitational fields that tug 

at each consituent. "St. Subaltern" thereby enacts a paricularly textual 

phenomenon, and designates a field of potentiality, an event-horizon that, while 

textual, carries material implications in that the figure derives from discourses of 


St. Subaltern first textually coalesced in Gayatyri Spivak's 1987 essay "A 
Literary Representation of the Subaltern," which used Jacques Lacan's figuration 
of puissance in his seminar "God and Woman 's puissance" to read Mahasweta 
Devi's story "Stanadayini." In using Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxism 
concomitantly, Spivak unwittingly also tapped discursive lines which lead back to 
the shared figure of the mystic. As I detail in the chapters below, this figure has a 
particular discursive history of its own in both psychoanalytic and Marxist 
discourses, and often communicated between them. At the same time, Spivak 
was building toward her 1988 essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" As I discuss in 
Chapter 6, Spivak's troping of the young woman Bhavaneswari Bhaduri into the 
subaltern "Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri" in that essay creates a figure whose relation 
to language, knowledge and experience recapitulates that of the trope of the 

In an uncanny reciprocation, Spivak's figuration of Bhaduri within a 
particular Marxist frame retrospectively foregrounded the mystic as a trope of 
negotiation with language, knowledge, and experience as elements of ideology. 
This reciprocal serendipity cast a particular light on the mystic as figured by 
Lacan, who placed the figure in a phallic sexual economy. Yet Lacan's figure was 
herself a node: Lacan's figure responded to that posed earlier by Simone de 
Beauvoir in The Second Sex as an existential relation to language and ideology 
(as bad faith). Nearly concurrent to de Beauvoir and working from often 
identical sources, Frantz Fanon's Black Skin. White Masks further uncannily 
describes the figure of the colonized Negro in almost the same terms as Lacan 
would apply to that of woman twenty-five years later. Through this figure, 
Fanon also permuted Marx's description of ideology in Capital from a relation of 

"not-know/do" to one of "not-know/ experience"— a relation at whose 
discursive centre in Marx's text sat the mystic. 

Fanon's involvement indicated that St. Subaltern was not a unidiscursive 
phenomenon, but rather one of asymptosis where lines of discourse 
(psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, and the emerging Postcolonial) drew ever 
closer to each other, yet maintained their irreducibility. Feminist discourses drew 
particularly close with Luce Irigaray's explicit response to both de Beauvoir and 
Lacan's figures in Speculum of the Other Woman and This Sex Which Is Not One. 
Irigaray focues on the mystic as a specific trope of women's relation to language, 
knowledge and experience — in short, to ideology. Yet she formulates her 
argument around the particular issue of representation within ideology, the 
same issue addressed by Spivak, in often suprisingly resonant ways, in "Can the 
Subaltern Speak?" 

St. Subaltern is thereby both a precedented figure as well as one of 
continually emerging discursive potential. Yet it is her very figurativity, her 
status as a discursive phenomenon that particularly marks her. As my literary 
and theoretical readings show, underlaying my discussion of experience, 
representation, puissance and ideology is the issue of textuality. Arguments 
around the theoretical writers and pieces mentioned above most often posit a 
dichotomy between text and experience, validating the latter at the expense of 
denigrating the former. A particular strain indicts current use of the mystic figure 
in theory as a kind of bad faith that forgets or silences the historical referents' 
own voices. But as Spivak's contribution to St. Subaltern indicates, voice and 
representation are slippery and internally heterogeneous categories. I thereby 
insist that such complaints perpetrate their own bad faith in valorizing a 
historical referent's surmiseable materiality by not only ignoring the very 
textuality through which such complaints are made, but also failing to recognize 
the value of the trope that partially derives from but remains irreducible to those 

referents. Beyond the fact that both the referents themselves and the discourses 

around them have a history, such arguments overlook the very jouissant 

element in tropes that escapes and exceeds ontological reduction. 

The theoretical texts I include permute their respective tropes not only 
according to their theoretical investments, but often in specific response to each 
other. Fanon and de Beauvoir, particularly, respond to shared psychoanalytic, 
Marxist, and existentialist conversations. For de Beauvoir the mystic posits a 
woman negotiating her experience of singularity through bad faith, toward an 
existential model of masculine activity. Fanon analogously but distinctly posits an 
individual alienated from himself through colonialist discourses of race, who 
nevertheless knows his experience as contradictory and disjunctive. Lacan 
responds to the linguistic strictures that de Beauvoir notes phallic language 
imposing on the mystic that foreclose her knowledge of her jouissant experience. 
Irigaray, responding directly to Lacan and through him to de Beauvoir, posits 
women who know very well what they experience despite phallic language, but 
who choose to mimic either phallic discourse itself to indicate its limits, or the 
mutenes already ascribed to the mystic in order to safeguard their jouissant 
experiences. Spivak, permuting the subaltern figure posited by Gramsci and the 
Subaltern Studies Group, responds directly to Lacan and indirectly to the others 
by positing a particular figure who not only knows her experience of intersecting 
politics of sex, nationalism, and colonialism, but also articulates her knowledge 
through those discourses' own languages. Rather than promoting facile idealism, 
however, each theoretical figure along with the literary characters I discuss 
emphasizes the complex and dire negotiations between ideological mystification 
and resistance, foregrounding that both are but variant phenomena within a 
field of jouissant potentiality. 

Whereas de Beauvoir focuses on what mystics do with their knowledge of 
their experience, out of an existential valoring of activity analogous to but 


distinct from Marx's, and how they represent that knowledge, Lacan focuses on 
how women deal with the mystical experience through language. Both de 
Beauvoir and Lacan already pose mystics' resistant articulation and 
representation of their experience within discourses that would deny them that 
very knowledge. Neither, however, yet inquires into how women come to the 
mystical experience in the first place — how the mystic experience, the revelation 
of knowledge, happens. Fanon, Irigray and Spivak, on the other hand, each 
propose volitional searches for knowledge, or acts of identification or 
knowledge, that indicate their subject's a priori awareness that there must be 
something else. Fanon works his thinking through examples of colonized 
subjects' attempts to re-identify themselves through misconceived appeals to the 
model of metropolitan, colonizing whites. Irigaray, working from Bataille, posits 
women's deliberate search for a knowledge beyond that which phallic discourses 
allot, in response to a conviction that is also a memory. Spivak describes a subject 
whose deliberately-timed suicide evinces a particular awareness of the discourses 
that construct her. 

Yet my own argument threatens to forget St. Subaltern's manifestation 
out of Spivak's reading of literature, and valorize her as a discursive 
phenomenon of texts of theory. My argument risks its own bad faith in 
establishing a theory /literature opposition. Therefore, after I contextualize the 
mystic trope in the rest of this chapter, my subsequent diapers' deployment of 
St. Subaltern works through close readings of both literature and theory. Three 
texts by U.S. women authors of color reveal even more complex negotiations of 
these relations through specific narrative strategies. These literary theorizations 
also indicate a greater and more dire complexity of the discourses involved. They 
show that not only is puissance a mediation of ideology as theory poses, but that 
ideology is also a mediation of puissance. These texts open puissance and 
ideology into each other through their shared element of unrepresentability. 

Along Fredric Jameson's line that the unrepresentable is not unknowable, and its 

chiasmus of the unknowable as not unrepresentable, The House op MaxxgQ 

Street by Sandra Cisneros, "We Came All The Way From Cuba So You Could 

Dress Like This?" by Achy Obejas, and The Color Purple bv Alice Walker each 

indicates that puissance and ideology constitute distinct but analogous 

experiences of a shared field of potentiality. This field not only foregrounds the 

excess of both jouissance and ideology (which I elaborate in the chapters below), 

but also marks such other phenomenon as rape and voicelessness as differential 

cognates. Close reading of these literary pieces therefore announces St. Subaltern 

and her attendant discourses as not unproblematic, but indeed as contingent and 

relative. Jouissance, as well as ideology, figuration, and troping, becomes not a 

matter of idealist escape but rather of responsible negotiation. 

To return to my tropological figure, then: St. Subaltern, not as hybrid, nor 

mestiza, nor any soupcpn of ontologizeable union, synthesis, or syncretism. 

Rather, St. Subaltern as both an asymptotic figuration and a way to read 

asymptotically. St. Subaltern deliberately as textual figure. Why? Because only in 

text could such a figure be posed. Just as the trope of the mystic is not restricted 

to religious discourse, nor the subaltern to conversations on postcoloniality, so 

the concepts of ideology and mystification are no longer restricted to their 

Marxist senses of class awareness. Granted that the terms as we receive them 

today are overdetermined by Marxism, they have a history prior to Marx as 

well. St. Subaltern invokes both those histories simultaneously and exploits those 

histories' resonances and asynchronies. 

The Mystic, nv-teness, Knowing 

[Something should be written about the return of these Christian 
phantoms at strategic points in analytic discourse 
— Michel de Certeau, Heterolog ies (37) 

For instance, in my own project here. Postcolonial feminist discourses 
have at every stage evinced the necessity of the tropological figure of the 


subaltern. But why revive the tired figure of the mystic, this abstract 

Feuerbachian trope by whose example Marx's historical analysis sought to 

release subjects from ideological mystification? What does this figure, this trope, 

offer? If for some, as for Michel de Certeau, historical mystics evinced a death 

drive, "a process whereby the objects of meaning vanish [. . .] as though the 

function of mysticism were to bring a religious episteme to a close and erase itself 

at the same time" (Heterolog ies 37), then the figures spun out of those historical 

mystics by de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray offer tropes for affirmative 

epistemic difference. The mystic as genre and trope connotes not only a 

particular formation of knowledge, but also a relation between that knowledge 

and other knowledges. 

As de Certeau further explains, 

[i]n the beginning, it is best to limit oneself to the consideration of what 
goes on in texts whose status is labeled "mystic," instead of wielding a 
ready-made definition (whether ideological or imaginary) of what it is 
that was inscribed in those texts by an operation of writing. [...] The 
problem is not to determine whether an exegetical treatise by Gregory of 
Nyssa, for example, is a product of the same experience as a discourse 
later termed "mystic," or whether both are constructed following roughly 
analogous rhetorical processes; it is, rather, to understand what happens 
inside the field delimited by a proper name ("mystic"), in which an 
operation regulated by an applicable set of rules is undertaken. 
(Heterologies 82) 

Mystic as a term denotes "one who is initiated into a mystery" — itself "a secret 
rite," derived from the Greek root "\iv, a slight sound with closed lips" and also 
the verb "to bind" (Skeat 300b). De Beauvoir will mark the "|xu-te" nature of the 
mystic, positing that "it is on the level of communication that the word 
['mystery'] has its true meaning: it is not a reduction to pure silence, to darkness, 
to absence; it implies a stammering presence that fails to make itself manifest and 
clear. To say that woman is a mystery is to say, not that she is silent, but that her 
language is not understood" (257). Whereas the theoretical writers haggle over 
the relative states of muteness of their respective figures, each of the literary 

characters already eschews such muteness, despite their analogous 

disenfranchisement. Each of the literary characters and theoretical figures, 
however, experience disjunctures between their knowledge and their experience, 
with varying degrees of violence. Such contradictions nevertheless engage a 
subsequent action, a doing, that complicates the terms of Marx's originary 
formulation of ideology. Each of the characters and figures also evinces a 
knowledge out of their experiences that opposes, or does not subscribe to, the 
epistemic rubrics that bracket their situations. It is such oppositional, other- 
knowledge that results from a particular experience, which they then represent 
to themselves. 

Granted I derive the sense of mystic/ -al I invoke from the Marx of Capital 
through Zizek; Marx derogatorily equates mystical with mystification through 
most of his corpus. 3 Mystification as a term etymologically contains, of course, 
the mystic figure, but through the verb facere, "to make," connoting a "making 
difficult or obscuring "in the historical and Marxist senses — reification on the 
historical stage. Zizek terms this effect "ideological mystification" (SOI 28). From 
The German Ideolog y and its discussion of Feuerbach, Marx (apparently 
indesociably) links ideology to the figure of the mystic by a conceptual slippage 
from mystic to mystification that, wittingly or no, recognizes only one of the 
ambivalent denotations of mystic. Marx favors the sense of making obscure by 
hiding or displacing knowledge, or of unconventional knowledge remaining 
incomprehensible to conventionally-trained ears. The determination of 
esotericism itself becomes an ideological matter. Ideological mystification as 
Marx and Zizek describe it, thereby eponymously effects the very contradictory 
process it describes. 

See especially Marx's critique of Stirner and the Hegelians in The German Ideology where 
Marx denounces the mystical "appearances" and "connections" manipulated by Stirner and the 
Hegelians as "tricks" (42). Curiously, the sixteenth-century Dominican Inquisitional priest 
Alonso de la Fuente denounced St. Teresa's writings on almost identical grounds, indicating the 
"tricks" by which she perpetrated her "heresy"; Perez-Romero details de la Fuente's 
denunciation as one of many reactionary re-ideologizing attempts to appropriate St. Teresa's 
writings into racist, right-wing castizo politics (195-205). 

To invoke the mystic and the mystical is to invoke paradox — yet paradox 

only from the perspective of masculist, phallic, capitalist, nationalist discourses. 

Mystic denotes one who has access to different knowledge, knowledge of beyond. 

Mystic also, simultaneously, denotes one initiated into a knowledge, or to whom 

knowledge is revealed, or reveals itself. Such revelation, transitive or intransitive, 

comprises the mystical event. The mystical, etymologically and conceptually, is 

thereby that which is simultaneously hidden, but also that which is about to be 

or can be revealed. Mystification, then, etymologically and conceptually, is 

simultaneously the act of obscuring, but also the continual potential to reveal. 4 

Marx and Engels' own writings attest to this conceptual and etymological 

duplicity: the logic of capital was always capable of being revealed, toward which 

they worked in The German Ideolog y and Capital .Tust as "mystery" is 

simultaneously that which is hidden but which is always in potential to be 

revealed, or is that knowledge which is beyond but is still knowable along a 

different path, then mystification becomes only the act of concealing that which 

can eventually be known. 

Mystes (\wcm\g) indicates "one vowed to keep silent," from the same root 

as mystic (fiuoteiv), "one who is initiated" (OED ##). At this point we will see de 

Beauvoir and Irigaray's figurations diverge, oddly, over the same referent. St. 

Teresa, invoked by de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray, and other mystics do not 

keep silent, but rather write out their knowledge of their experience, in language 

insufficient to the task and its matter. They represent their knowledge of their 

experience to others. How those representations are used and by whom 

becomes the question for not only religion but also for psychoanalysis. Phallic 

disourses impose themselves, and incorporate female mystics' texts, using them 

as goads or antitheses. The texts' transgressive potential is diverted, their energy 

reinscribed into dogma. Revealed knowledge, or experiencce of the revealed, is 

always in danger of appropriation, and of mystification in the Marxian sense. 
4 Marx's term is Geheimnisvolle, "secret," from gehe im "secret, clandestine" (Kapital 46). 


Mysticism, mystic, mystification, like Unheimlich and puissance, are concepts that 
involve paradox. De Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan, Irigaray and Spivak posit paradox 
to resist, write about resistance on, or resist through writing, ideology. Cisneros, 
Obejas, and Walker present resistant strategies that paradoxically mediate, or 
interfere, in the disruption already defined as ideology. 

My invocation of the mystic figure is not bound or reducible, to religious 
connotations, nor to the Euro-Christian tradition. The mystic has served as a 
figure of both transgression and reinscription, rebellion and orthodoxy. As a 
philosophical and literary trope, the mystic figure has mutated over time and 
use. From one who seeks and is initiated into knowldge different from that 
which is public, sanctioned and customary, to one who seeks unmediated 
knowledge of and union with God, to one who seeks or has access to resistant 
knowledges by alternative means, the mystic has provided a trope of a beyond 
that is always in proximity, but which is prohibitively rendered "beyond" by 
oppressive and restrictive epistemologies. 

Mystic(al) Production 

In explaining that the process by which product becomes commodity 
"appears as loss of realization for the workers, objectification as loss of the object and 
bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation", the Marx of the 
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts describes the situation of workers as 
alienated producers in capitalist production systems (108). As we will see, de 
Beauvoir and Lacan's formulations of the female mystic remain alienated from, 
respectively, direct access to systems of value, or from their own experience of 
puissance within such systems. 5 

5 Contemporaneous to Lacan, Georges Bataille in Erotism, and later Michel de Certeau in 
Heterolog ies, discuss the female mystic as alienated from the Christian God whose loss, as 
"lack," they seek to fill. While Lacan and Bataille's discussions inform each other at various 
levels, and Bataille's texts influenced both Irigaray and Foucault's conceptions of "resistance" 
and "transgression," my current project permits only cursory reference to them or de Certeau's 

I propose, however, that de Beauvoir and Lacan ascribe a double and 

contradictory "product" to the female mystics they figure. First, the mystics on 

whom the trope rests produce texts through which they attempt to represent 

their inarticulable experience post facto. Their ostensible motives, however, 

specifically bracket the written result of mystical experience. Their texts 

simultaneously comprise a contrite expatiation to evince God's existence and 

offer spiritual inspiration, and expiate their experience of the sin of pride. 6 Yet 

second, they also produce ecstasy, puissance, that which by definition already 

exceeds "use-value" as understood by phallocapitalist production systems. For 

Irigaray (as for Barthes), this excess marks female mystical experience as escape 

and subversion. "Produce" thereby becomes analogous to "experience" in the 

above formulations — ecstasy and puissance as experiences produced on, by, and 

within those female mystics. Ecstacy and jouisance, however, also produce text, 

the contradictory and inexplicable representation of the inarticulable experience 

from which those same mystics remain presumably alienated. 

6 E.g. St. Teresa's own exordium: "The life of the Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus [...] written by 
herself at the command of her confessor, to whom she submits and directs it" (Life of St. Teresa 
21) ["La vida de la Santa Madre Teresa de Jesus [...] escritos por ella misma, por mandado de su 
confesor, a quien la envia y dirige" ( La vida de Santa Teresa 53)] — thereby my coupling 
"expatiate-expiate." Amy Hollywood, however, maintains that 'Teresa of Avila was told to 
write her Life by her confessor , in order to defend her visionary and mystical claims. This text 
in particular, then, was written in a quest for legitimacy" (179 n.7). However, the ecstatic 
quality of the experience from which Teresa and other female mystics write informs not only 
the writings themselves, but also the reading of them, as Barthes helps surmise: "The brio of 
the text (without which, after all, there is no text) is its will to bliss [volonte de puissance]: just 
where it exceeds demand, transcends prattle, and whereby it attempts to overflow, to break 
through the constraint of adjectives — which are those doors of language through which the 
ideological and the imaginary come flowing in" (The Pleasure of the Text 13-14). Ironically 
(given that the French de translates as both of and from ), this supposition would not 
necessarily reduce such texts to "texts of pleasure" ("the text that contents, fills, grants 
euphoria; the text that comes from culture and does not break withit, is linked to a comfortable 
practice of reading") but rather for de Beauvoir et al would frame them as "texts of bliss" [texte 
de puissance] particularly vis-a-vis Bataille and de Certeau's thesis of mysticism as both a 
response to loss and an effort to efface the self/soul (q.v.): "the text that imposes a state of loss 
[etat de perte], the text that discomforts [and] unsettles the reader's historical, cultural, 
psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his 
relation with language" (The Pleasure of the Text 14). For further (albeit reductive) 
commentary on the textuality of Euro-Christian mystical texts, see the central chapters of Don 
Cupitt Mysticism After Modernity (q.v. throughout my text here). 

Marx's suggestions indicate all elements of capitalist societies as subject(s) 

in ideology, if not always in the same way or in the same relation. Each of the 

theoretical and literary texts I include permutes the concept of ideology. In using 

such a figure as a particular exemplum, de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray 

foreground these mystics' situation as women within a sexual economy, if ignoring 

their class 7 and overlooking concerns for sexual orientation, race, and the 

vicissitudes of imperialist /colonialist determination as well 8 — but that is because 

the figure these writers inherited, from Charcot and others, was already 

culturally, racially and sexually overdetermined and restricted 9 . 

Nonetheless, as figured by these writers, the female Euro-Christian 

mystic, comprises a particular(ly focused) relation to knowledge and experience. 

Given that we read doing and experience as analogous but irreducible, they offer 

opportunities for studying interplays of subjectivity, access to language, and 

relations to ideology. Such interplays can, when teased out along those lines, 

effect engaging ways of thinking (of) resistance. Even as Irigaray's re-perspective 

7 As de Certeau notes in Heterolog ies. "In sixteenth-century Spain, Saint Teresa belonged to a 
hidalguta (noble class) that had lost its duties and holdings [;] ethnic distinctions, la raza, 
counted more than position in the social hierarchy [;] From John of Avila [...] to Molinos, a 
strange alliance linked 'mystic' speech and 'impure' blood" (84). De Certeau further elaborates 
that many individual "mystics" and their religious orders resulted from class displacement and 
concerns for ethnic purity, epecially in the era of the conversos, those Jews who converted to 
Catholicism to avoid persecution in Spain (84-85, 245 n.17). See also Antonio Perez-Romero's 
"Saint Teresa of Avila and Spanish castizo Ideology" on the writings of St. Teresa as 
posthumously embroiled in Spanish right-wing religious and ethnic controversies (5-36). 

"The discourse around these distinctions is too substantial to list here. For examplary texts, 
however, see Adrienne Rich "Compulsory Heterosexuality," Monique Wittig The Straig ht 
Mind, Judith Butler Gender Trouble. Audre Lorde Sister Outsider. andAngela Y. Davis, Women- 
Race & Class. Chandra Talpade Mohanty's "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and 
Colonial Discourses" highlights the problematics involved in even these discourses' 
assumptions for grouping "women" and their "experiences" under a totalizing rubric 

De Certeau traces and critiques the overdeteminations of centuries of discourse about "mystics" 

on the female mystic figure 10 suggests embracing the very elements which de 

Beauvoir and Lacan leave suspect, her formulation as yet only hints at the results 

vis-a-vis ideological formations. 11 Such discussions, as I will note, establish a 

particular relation of a particular sense of experience to a particular definition of 

knowledge, which, while distinct from, remains asymptotic to similar formulations 

of the female subaltern in work such as Spivak's. 

The Beginnings of St Subaltern 

In "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern," her exegesis of 
Mahasweta Devi's story "Stanadayini" ["Breast-Giver"], Gayatri Chakravorty 
Spivak investigates the multiple and heterogeneous situational strictures around 
Devi's subaltern female protagonist Jashoda, a mother-to hire (244). 12 In doing 
so, Spivak simultaneously re-examines, reconfigures and deploys the Lacanian 
proposal of puissance as "orgasmic pleasure" to posit "a way out" of the 
reductive strictures of woman considered only in terms of "her copulative and 
reproductive body" ("LRS" 258). 13 For Spivak and Lacan, woman's jouissance 
constitutes that whose use- value exceeds copulation for reproduction. Spivak 

10 Such workings and reworkings remain, of course problematic: the lines between the actual 
female mystics themselves and theoretical uses of or generalizations based on them frequently 
blurr, and in researching and writing my project I have struggled with this very problem. 
Elsewhere I note that various commentators, particularly Amy Hollywood and Cristina 
Mazzoni (q.q.v.), focus their analyses on the disjunctive between the empirical personage of the 
female mystic, and the figure as formulated by de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray. My project 
here seeks no such reclamations, but remains focused, rather, on the figure or textual trope of the 
"mystic" as deployed by the writers I discuss. 

11 Bataille and de Certeau's reformulations, themselves revising the terrain of "lack" and 
"transgression," work in the direction of Foucaulf s thinking of transgression as both subversion 
and reinscription; q.v. below. See also Chapter 4 of Perez-Romero's Subversion and Liberation 
in the Writings of St. Teresa of Avila. 

12 Hereafter, I cite Spivak's "A Literary Repesentation of the Subaltern" as "LRS". 

13 Spivak so doing uses Devi's story to critque certain feminisms' trivializing of the theory of 
value (in work), ignoring the mother as subject (in mothering-as-work), priviledging the 
indigenous and diasporic elite from the third world, and identifying "woman" with the 
reproductive/ copulative body. The latter issue explains Spivak's focus on jouissance as woman's 
orgasmic (extra-copulative) pleasure, to counter this logic from the various feminisms she 

notes that Lacan's "A Love Letter" 14 already posits an analogous excess-in-bemg 

which comprises knowledge. Spivak treats the "subject (speaking 
being)" posited thereon as "a map or graph of knowing" 15 in keeping with 
various other "epistemographs" — including "the Marxian notion of ideology" 
("LRS" 259). 

As Slavoj Zizek indicates in his Lacanian study The Sublime Object of 
Ideolog y, the "most elementary definition of ideology is probably the well- 
known phrase from Marx's Capital: 'Sie zvissen das nicht, aber sie tun es'— 'they 
know not what they do, hut they are doing it'"(28). 16 Spivak's formulation "a map or 
graph of knowing" recapitulates this Marxian notion of contradiction between 
knowing and doing within ideology. "If we take Lacan at his word/' Spivak 
proposes, then this epistemograph, "this knowing-place, writing itself and 

writing us, 'others' the self. It is a map of the speaking being that is beyond its 

"In Seminar XX: Encore. As I will cite Lacan's original French text of the Seminaire XX: Encore 
as well as Jacqueline Rose and Bruce Fink's repsective translations, my citations will specify 
which version I quote: e.g. "(Fjg.9)" for the page in Rose's translation in Feminine Sexuality: 
Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne. "( Fink 17)" for Fink's translation, and "(Lacan 126)" for 
Lacan's original French text. My text will clarify whether I cite the translation, the 
translator's commentary, or when I offer my own translation. 

15 Spivak's proposal also seems analogous to Foucaulfs concept of the clinical body as an 
"anatomical atlas" on which medical science had come to chart its "knowledge" (Naissaince 2) 
— see also Macey's discussion in The Lives of Michel Foucault (132-137). It also echoes Fredric 
Jameson's proposal of the "cognitive map," derived in part from "Althusser's formula [which is] 
implicitly opposed to the realm of abstract knowledge, a realm which, as Lacan reminds us, is 
never positioned in or actualized by any concrete subject but rather by the structural void called 
le sujet suppose savoir (the subject supposed to know), a subject-place of knowledge" 
( Postmodernism 53). The title of the volume Ma pp in g Ideolog y (edited by Zizek) plays 
through this figure. For a variant discussion, see Elizabeth Scarry The Body in Pain and 
Mazzoni's discussion of Elaine Scarry vis-a-vis the female mystic's body. 

16 By invoking these lines from Capital — by which time Marx himself had, as Stuart Hall 
notes, so abstracted the concept of "ideology" that he abandoned the term (Hall xv) — Zizek 
abandons the earlier, more explicitly negative Marxian (and Althusserian) sense of 
contradiction, particularly vis-a-vis that between "ideology" and "science" as dialectical 
forms of "knowledge." As my invocation of Marx's formula derives from Zizek's comments, my 
project must also "ignore" (in the Satrean sense) this particular contradiction. First, because the 
distinction Marx draws nevertheless still priviledges a presumably stable, universal "science." 
Second, because my chosen writers' direct or indirect invocations of Marx's formula also ignore 
this contradiction Third, corrolary to the previous reason, because Marx's more abstract 
formula allows for thinking of ideology in terms not restricted to class, i.e. "sex," "race." I 
hereafter cite The Sublime Object of Ideology as S_0_L 

own grasp as other" ("LRS" 259). A "subject" or "self" so figured remains 

alienated from the very map of knowing that she herself constitutes. In effect, 

such a "subject" cannot "read" herself, cannot "know" herself. Despite these 

ostensible foreclosures, such a subject "experiences" herself and her situation as 

"woman," and nonetheless speaks or writes. Spivak's invocation of "beyond" in 

this passage invokes Lacan's further proposition of puissance as excess, as an 

experience (of a) beyond [au-dela] of the very phallic sexual discourses he 


The Lacanian beyond that Spivak invokes is itself qualified by his earlier 
proposals. The subject whom Spivak and Lacan both propose remains a sexed or 
sexuated subject: she is also constructed as "woman." His lecture "On jouissance" 
had posited that, since (presumably) the language through which sexuality 
thinks is already phalHcaUy-determined, "[j]ouissance, qua sexual, is phallic" (Fink 
9). In "God and Woman' s jouissance," Lacan further contextualizes the sense of 
jouissance that he later embellishes in "A Love Letter." Jouissance for Lacan 
signifies that sexual pleasure 17 which, qua pleasure, exceeds that necessary for 
heterosexually reproductive utility (i.e. its use-value) caught up in a phallic(ized) 
sexual economy. Lacan thus also implicates phallic sexuality and its masculist, 18 
heterosexist, capitalist proscriptions for jouissance in an economy of sexed, and 
sexual, production. 

Despite the phallic determination of jouissance, Lacan projects a particular 
jouissance for women that further but irreducibly exceeds even that sexual 
economy which already posits jouissance as excess, "a jouissance beyond the 
phallus [. . .] proper to her and of which she may know nothing, except that she 

17 Or that which at least begins as sexual pleasure, or of which sexual pleasure is the first 
"instance" in its Lacanian or Freudian sense: see Fink's translation, p.3 n.9. 

18 1 invoke here Spivak's use of the term (derived variantly from Adrienne Rich and others): "I 
like the faint echo of 'muscling' in there. 'Masculinism' seems to be about being masculine; the 
corresponding word, relating to being feminine, would be 'femininism' " (A Critique of 
Postcolonial Reason 157 n65). 

experiences it" (E£ 145). 19 Thereby, Lacan also refigures the Marxian notion of 

ideology from a contradiction between knowing and doing to one between 

knowledge and experience. "[E]xcept that she experiences it" — Lacan describes 

here the specific disjuncture between women's puissant experience and any 

knowledge of it as such, a disjuncture effected by women's surmisable 

overdetermination by phallic language beyond whose conceptual bounds such 

an experience transpires. Jouissance, for Spivak and Lacan, would thereby 

constitute and describe the experience of a disjuncture between knowledge and 

experience, rather than simply the disjuncture itself. 20 Spivak reconfigures this 

beyond as "the place where an unexchangeable excess can be imagined and 

figured forth" to transgress "the line where an unexchangeable excess is tamed 

into exchange", i.e. where it falls prey to mystification ("LRS" 259). 

Yet the Lacanian texts that Spivak cites discuss this jouissance "beyond the 

phallus" in the context of the female Western European Christian mystic — a 

figure of a figure, mystic as a figuration of the prior figure woman. This 

compounded figure describes woman in (mis)relation to her own sexuality, her 

own jouissance — of which, Lacan maintains, she remains in ignorance save that 

she knows she experiences something. Like those of Simone de Beauvoir, to whose 

figuration of the mystic in The Second Sex Lacan's seminar responds, Lacan's 

formulation of the female mystic effects a chiasmic echoing of both Engels' 

formulation of ideology in The German Ideolog y 21 and Marx's later formulation 

of ideology in the same section of Capital in which he denounces mysticism. 

19 «I1 y a une jouissance a elle dont peut-etre elle-meme ne sait rien, sinon qu'elle l'6prouve» 
(Lacan 69). 

20 The invoked texts of St. Teresa of Avila, as we will see, themselves remain concerned with 
the tension between "truth" and "experience" central to any conceptualization of "ideology", 
read through a sexed and sexuated discourse of erotics: "[I]f anyone thinks that I am lying, I 
pray God, in His goodness, to grant him some experience of it" (St. Teresa 210 emphasis mine). 

21 'That the material life-conditions of the persons inside whose heads this thought process 
goes on in the last resort determine the course of this process remains of necessity unknown to 
these persons, for otherwise there would be an end to all ideology" ( Feuerbach. 65-6 emphasis 

De Beauvoir's discussion of the female mystic — which, as we will see, she 

formulates through the existential concept of bad faith, itself a permutation of 

Marx's concept of ideology — invokes other, analogous figurations of 

contradictory and alienating relations between female subjects' lived experience 

(sexual or otherwise) and their knowledge of that experience, particularly as 

caught in analogous systems of representation. Elaborating the relation between 

a sexuated speaking subject and ideology, which in Spivak's terms offers "maps 

of stages of knowing rather than the story of the growth of an individual mind 

that knows," 22 particularly contextualizes her later figuration of the female 

subaltern in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" ("LRS" 259-59, italics mine). Spivak's 

subaltern female, overdetermined by simultaneous and interpenetrative 

phallopolitics and the "postcolonial situation," inhabits an analogical conceptual 

and discursive space to the mystic she indirectly invokes through her use of 

Lacan. So it is that Spivak provides a step toward the tropological figure of St. 


But Spivak's step is not the first. While Lacan's is the better known 

formulation of ideology as disjuncture between knowledge and experience, and 

certainly the more textually explicit, Frantz Fanon had posited a similar sense of 

ideology twenty-five years earlier, in Black Skin. White Masks. One can only 

surmise that Spivak turns to Lacan's formulation for its direct implication of 

women's puissant experience. Yet as I detail in Chapter 3, Fanon cites the raced 

and colonized body as itself an experience that effects a knowledge. What Lacan 

posits in Encore as constitutive of the mystic and of woman's puissance, Fanon 

had already figured for the raced colonized subject. While Fanon's text 

underemphasizes raced women's position, as many have noted, he nevertheless 

proffers a conceptual step that synchronizes with Spivak's. 

22 Spivak's employment the un-ontologizeable gerund knowing over the ontologically-locked 
knows indicates a Derridean interest in the process rather than the subject in that process, since 
such a subject herself remains unfixable. 

Thereby, the tropological figures of the female mystic and the subaltern 

female both inhabit contradictory spaces denoted by ideology. Since they inhabit 

those spaces as women so constructed by their ideological environments, their 

sexuated construction as bodies effects a particular mediation of not only 

experience itself, as it were, but also of their attempted representations of that 

experience to and through masculist, racist, classist systems of language. Such 

construction also mediates the "knowledge" such an experience and 

representation comprises, as well as their relation and access to that experience, 

that knowledge, and that representation. 

Chapter Synopses 

Since Cisneros' narrator Esperanza Cordero works a complex 
representation of her rape and the knowledges in play around that event, 
Chapter 2 closely reads that scene in The House on Mango Street to introduce 
the concepts of experience, representation, and puissance at work throughout 
my study. I formulate experience in context of feminist discourses about the 
body, representation as a slippery matter of voicing, and jouissance as a multi- 
valent field of excess including sexuality, (un)representability, and textuality. I 
concomitantly develop the trope of the mystic as a particular way of thinking 
relationships between the elements of ideology. Without farilely reducing my 
chosen literary narrators to "mystics," I aver that the puissant element 
constituent of the mystic foregrounds representational strategies that exceed the 
epistemological limits of situations such as Esperanza' s rape. Despite the 
mediations set in place, Esperanza recognizes the disjuncture of the racist and 
sexist ideologies enacted through her rape. Navigating an experience whose 
violence renders it unrepresentable, Esperanza nevertheless manipulates her 
representation of the event-horizon around the aporia posed by the rape, and 
formulates both textual and material knowledges of her experience to help other 
women in similar circumstances. 

Like the concepts of puissance, representation, and experience discussed in 

Chapter 2, that of ideology is equally permutable. Chapter 3 thereby considers 

through a close reading of Achy Obejas' short story "We Came All the Way 

from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?" the various strategies of resistance 

that such permutations provide. I examine how Obejas' narrator's complex 

representation around her Cuban lover's puissant moan creates a knowledge of 

and interference-field around the Cuban and U.S. nationalist ideologies that seek 

to interpellate the narrator. Prefaced by my earlier discussion of Lacan, my 

reading traces various definitions of ideology from Marx and Engels' 

contradiction between knowledge and doing that results in alienation, to Lukacs' 

positing of reification, Althusser's concerns for representation, and Zizek's 

implication of puissance as susceptible to ideological reappropriation. I also 

explain the viability of ideology as a concept in a purportedly post-ideological 

world. These multiplicities provide the grounds whereby Obejas' text explores 

not only resistance to ideology, but moreover the puissant potential and 

pleasure the narrator discovers in setting coincident ideological fields into mutual 

interference through her lover's sexual puissance. 

Chapter 4 returns to the figures of the mystic and the colonial subject as 

posed by de Beauvoir in The Second Sex and Fanon in Black Skin. White Masks 

to tease out the implications for puissance, ideology, and representation laid out 

in the previous chapter. Through their particular figurations of the mystic and 

the colonized, de Beauvoir and Fanon contribute to ongoing theorizations of 

what Spivak will later call "map[s] of the speaking being that [are] beyond [their] 

own grasp as other." Texts such as de Beauvoir and Fanon's bring into proximity 

the elements of ideology, sexuality, race, and subjectivity, and formulate the 

theoretical grounds later trod by Lacan, Irigaray, and Spivak that enable the 

close readings of my chosen literary texts. Yet, as objects of narrative that 

indicate the centrality of text to purported materialist studies, de Beauvoir and 

Fanon's figurations are no less subject to close textual reading. Responding to 

similar existentialist and Marxist influences, each figure describes relations to 

fields of knowledge, action and experience in terms of sex and race. Each figure 

also develops the existential notion of bad faith as a permutation of the concept 

of ideology. De Beauvoir's mystic and Fanon's colonized thereby frame ideology 

and puissance as fields of mediation themselves further mediated by 

representation. I trace the concept of bad faith, and survey arguments around it, 

to contextualize how these particular figures nevertheless indicate the ideological 

elements at work on de Beauvoir and Fanon's own texts. While de Beauvoir and 

Fanon perform as exempla of the very discourses of resistance they each 

espouse, the figurations they deploy exceed their own authors' underestimation 

of the machinations of ideology. 

Yet the trope of the mystic has a few further permutations of its own. 

Lacan's discussions of women's puissance respond to de Beauvoir's mystic, and 

Chapter 5 follows Lacan's analysis of what existentialist notions of bad faith 

overlook or underestimate. Contrary to much feminist commentary, Lacan does 

not find women irretrievably mired in phallic sexuality. Rather, he proposes that 

women's situtation within phallic sexual and linguistic networks overdetermines 

the available field of language open to describe, and therefore to know, a 

(sexual) experience that is itself beyond phallic epistemologies. He proposes that 

puissance constitutes an extant field of potentiality beyond de Beauvoir's 

conceptual range. Women still, for Lacan, find means of registering their 

otherwise unrepresentable experience, even if denied a knowledge of it through 

that articulation. Responding to both Lacan and de Beauvoir's figurations of the 

mystic, Luce Irigaray avers that women know very well what they experience. 

Rather than a lack of or overdetermination of adequate language and 

knowledge, Irigaray instead suggests that women instead already manipulate 

their language, their representations of their puissant experience, to mimic the 

preconceptions superimposed on them by phallic epistemologies. For Irigaray, 

women thereby circumvent such epistemologies — while nevertheless materially 

remaining in them. Yet the dual iterative and textual elements of women's 

knowledge reconfigure the fields of representation in play for both Lacan and 

Irigaray: textuality becomes an inextricable part of both ideology and its 


Yet beyond even these figurations of the mystic and the colonized subject, 

Gayatri Spivak's formulation of the subaltern woman, out of Gramsci and the 

Subaltern Studies Group, raises the question of women who not only know what 

they experience, but who also deliberately articulate their knowledge through 

phallic vocabularies. Chapter 6 thus returns us to Spivak's invocation of Lacan 

that I noted in the introduction. In young Indian independence activist 

Bhubaneswari Bhaduri's relations to local nationalist and sexual politics described 

at the culmination of "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak posits a figure perhaps 

even more overdetermined than those posited by de Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan 

and Irigaray. Badhuri's suicide and suicide note carry a specifically counter-sexed 

content, timed to both the local phallopolitics of her family and the nationalist 

post-colonial politics of India. As figured by Spivak, Bhaduri not only knows 

very well what she experiences, but also orchestrates how she represents that 

experience in the vocabulary of local phallic politics. Yet as Spivak details, despite 

Bhaduri's disruption of the basic contradiction that comprises ideology, her 

statement remains incomprehensible even in that very vocabulary. Bhaduri's 

communique is thereby appropriated by the ideologies it navigated: it is 

neutralized by representation. Yet Spivak's figure of the female subaltern itself 

constitutes a representation. As we read Spivak's account of Bhaduri's suicide 

note without the note itself ever appearing, Spivak renders Bhubaneswari 

Bhaduri the referent into "Bhubaneswari Bhaduri" the tropological figure. Again, 

textuality becomes an inextricable part of both ideology and its negotiation. 

Given Spivak's particular formulation of woman as a node of intersecting 

ideological discourses of sex, race, and class, I end with a close reading of Alice 

Walker's novel The Color Purple, which offers further complex representations 

of women's mediation of ideology. Walker's female characters inhabits different 

situations in, and negotiate different strategies within, ideology mediated by 

respective racisms and concomitant class inequities. Through their letters, the 

sisters Celie and Nettie represent imaginary relationships to their real conditions 

of existence, which representations and resulting imaginaries exceed those 

conditions. Celie in particular is aided by Shug Avery's renegotiation of 

existential bad faith, as well as the puissant sexuality to which she introduces 

Celie. The two also illustrate subjects realizing the machinations of ideological 

mystification, and ways of negotiating its influence by mediating its constituent 

terms. Through this process, Celie' s letters achieve a contemplative puissant 

richness that exceeds the mere sum of her intricate grammatical and thematic 

stylistic elements. In each case, women produce puissant representations of 

themselves and their experiences that exceed the epistemological bounds they 

directly inhabit, and thereby come to know their situations differently, to move 

beyond them and to help others do the same. 




You can't erase what you know. 

— Esperanza, The House on Mango Street 

One permutation of puissance, I avered in Chapter 1, constitutes a 
particular experience of ideology. This premise is itself predicated on the free 
play of puissance. Yet, can such free play be taken for granted? What happens 
when either puissance itself is mystified, or access to it is foreclosed? What if its 
free play is suspended, or violated? If puissance implies boundless excess, is its 
foreclosure possible? Is jouisssance indeed conceptually, sexually, and textually 

Sandra Cisneros' novel The House on Mango Street offers a complex 
theorization of just such questions. The novel concerns Esperanza Cordero, a 
young Mexican- American woman who inhabits multiple and fragmented 
discourses of sex, race, and class in Chicago. Through the chapter "Red Clowns" 
and the rape that occurs in it, Cisneros navigates a complex series of 
representations and aporias that describe puissance as itself a relationship to 
knowledge and experience, as well as a register of disjuncture between 
knowledge and experience. The narrator intricately manipulates representational 
elements of the text she produces around her rape to formulate a knowledge of 
the event, and represent that knowledge to herself. Out of that representation 
around an unrepresentable, traumatic event, Esperanza also initiates a program 
of action towards helping other women. 

A close reading of that incident in Cisneros' novel also provides an 
opportunity to explore the constituent elements of experience, representation, 


and puissance that will recur in the novel's subsequent chapters. Reading 

multiple theoretical sources on these elements through Esperanza's narrative 

indicates the central role of the act of narrative itself to formulate knowledge 

around what otherwise remains a mystified, aporetic event. 


Esperanza formulates the chapter "Red Clowns" around her rape by a 
gang of young anglo males. She frames her telling of this event by citing the 
disjuncture the rape evinces between this her first sexual experience, and the 
knowledge of sex transmitted to her through various sources. Esperanza has 
befriended Sally, another young Latina. Sally performs the feminine girl whom 
Esperanza has been steered toward being, but cannot or will not be: demure, 
conventionally attractive, and sexually available to males. Esperanza 
accompanies Sally to a sideshow, loses track of her when Sally leaves with a "big 
boy," and is approached by a group of ostensibly anglo boys who rape her. 1 In 
the wake of the rape, Esperanza accuses "Sally, you lied. It wasn't what you said 
at all [. . .] The way they said it, the way if s supposed to be, all the storybooks 
and movies, why did you lie to me?"(99). Esperanza cites the sources of sex- 
knowledge at her disposal: storybooks and movies, to which she will add 
magazines, but also her friend Sally, who presumably draws on the same 

The first two sources presumably invoke the popular myth of romance 

fed to girls throughout the novel. From these sources, the female characters 

coalesce a nebulous, mystified conception of female sexuality. The novel 

provides several examples of girls' training to be women along male-identified 

lines. 2 The wearing of pump s (41-42), development and use of one's hips (49-50), 
1 The rape is itself ostensible. The scant description Esperanza gives of the event, which I 
discuss above, offers little definitive evidence of what exactly is supposed to have happened. 
Her reaction to the event, however, echoes those reported by many victims of rape. I read the 
incident, thereby, as a rape. 

2 1 invoke "male-identified" here in the sense presented through Radicalesbians' manifesto 
"The Woman-Identified Woman" () 

vague longing for passionate kisses (73), wearing of makeup (88-89), and Sally's 

permission and encouragement of boys' advances comprise about all of the 

narrator's exposure to knowledge of female sexuality. 

Male sexuality, on the other hand, is collapsed into the general impunity 
ascribed to boys throughout the novel. In the chapter "The Monkey Garden" 
which immediately precedes "Red Clowns," an enraged Esperanza runs to the 
mother of one of a group of boys who ransom Sally's keys for kisses. Upon 
Esperanza's complaint, the boy's mother resignedly asks "what do you want me 
to do [. . .] call the cops?" and continues with the laundry (97). Male sexuality 
becomes an assumption, exasperatingly tolerated but nonetheless as ill-defined 
as female sexuality. The boy's mother operates as another ideological apparatus, 
herself interpellated into acquiescence. 

Esperanza describes her own frustration at not only her inability to rectify 
the perceived injustice of the boys' predation of Sally, but also the disjuncture 
between her reaction to available sex-knowledge and that of the boys and Sally 
ensemble. Having taken "three big sticks and a brick" with her to rescue Sally, 
Esperanza is greeted by the group with derision: "Sally said go home. Those 
boys said leave us alone. I felt stupid with my brick. They all looked at me as if / 
was the one that was crazy and made me feel ashamed" (97). For Esperanza, 
nothing connects the knowledges of sexuality presented to her: they remain 
simply assumed. Her frustration at this scene results as much from her 
experience of a disjuncture between her experience and prevailing knowledge 
(rather than from the disjuncture itself) as it does from her exclusion from, as she 
calls it, the joke she doesn't get (96). Incapable of articulating this frustration or 
representing its constituent elements, Esperanza flees in humiliated tears. 

Sally, who encourages boys' sexuality in part as an escape from her 
abusive father, does not of course "lie" to Esperanza. She speaks from and acts 
on what she "knows" derived from the sex-ideologies she inhabits. Phrased 

another way, Sally has a particular knowledge of what she does, an 

overdetermined knowledge — a false consciousness, specifically what Gayatri 

Spivak in another context describes as "internalized gendering perceived as 

ethical choice" (Imaginary Maps xxviii). Sally thereby presents a self which she 

thinks is her self. She reacts to Esperanza's effort to rescue her as her knowledge 

dictates she should. Her actions indicate a knowledge levied in the boys' favor, 

which she perceives as her favor as well. She indicates no oppositional 

knowledge, no awareness that would qualify her as acting in existential bad faith 3 

: her self-presentation is not deliberate misrepresentation, because she knows no 

other self. 

Which is not to say that Sally knows no other version of that same self. The 

novel presents an overdetermination of the scope of women's choices. After the 

episode with the keys, and that of Esperanza's rape, Esperanza states that "Sally 

got married like we knew she would, young and not ready" (101). Esperanza 

believes that Sally marries to escape her father whose abuse results from his 

possessiveness; Sally escapes him by marrying a marshmallow salesman who 

restricts her to the house, out of his own possessiveness. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan's 

definition of puissance is here germane, particularly now as Sally evinces the kind 

of reappropriable jouissance warned by Zizek and Radhakrishnan: "Jouissance 

means sexual pleasure, but at an abstract level it could be described as the 

temporary pleasure afforded by substitute objects or by others' recognition 

(substitutes for the original other)" (271). Effectively, Sally's is a choice that is not 

a choice. Between the surety of her father's abuse and the possibility of another 

male's protection and support, she chooses the latter, not realizing that the male 

whom she marries works as, again, only another version of what she already 

knows. She alters her station but not her status in the shift from daughter to 


3 1 define and elaborate "bad faith" in my discussion of de Beauvoir, Fanon, and Sartre in 
Chapter 3. 

The "storybooks and movies" to which Esperanza refers in her accusation 

operate here, most obviously, as kinds of Althusserian ideological apparatuses 
that promote and reproduce particular ideologies. Esperanza invokes their 
respective ideologies in negative: she names the apparatuses rather than the 
ideologies themselves, of which she only now becomes aware as ideologies. She 
displaces and then qualifies those ideologies by quick description of the boys' 
advances, their dirtiness, the "sour mouth" and smell of the one who initiates the 
rape, and the "high black gym shoes" that retreat afterward. Esperanza figures 
the actual ideologies themselves, the masculist and sexist messages and values 
promoted by them, through the boys and their actions. In a radical variation of 
Marx's formula, Esperanza comes to know by others' doing — to her. Her non- 
representation of the ideologies themselves, but rather of the apparatuses that 
carry and operate by them, indicates and reproduces the disjuncture between the 
knowledge those apparatuses transmit and the experience those ideologies 

The image of her projected by and through those apparatuses, however, 
is a raced and ethnicized one as well as a sexed one. The rape includes an element 
of ethnic fetishization. One of her anglo rapists repeats "I love you, Spanish girl" 
during the event, marking the exoticization and exploitation of the foreign other 
as constituent of the rape (100). This element appears twice in her aporetic 
narrative of the rape, interspersed with her denunciations of the media that 
perpetuate romanticized, sanitized and mystifying views of sex and sexuality. 
The repetition of this fetish-phrase by both the rapist and by Esperanza in her 
narrative indicates the centrality of race and ethnicity to the rape itself, on which 
Esperanza focuses. This is the one ideological element that Esperanza can, or is 
able to represent or "tell." 


The senses of experience at play here seem to concurr with those 

suggested by Teresa De Lauretis, who suggests exprience as a "particular 

manner of knowledge or apprehension of self" (158 emphasis mine) : 

by experience I do not mean the mere registering of sensory data, or a 
purely mental (psychological) relation to objects and events, or the 
acquisition of skills and competences by accumulation or repeated 
exposure. I use the term [. . .] in the general sense of a process by which, 
for all social beings, subjectivity is constructed. Through that process one 
places oneself or is placed in social reality, and so perceives and 
comprehends as subjective (referring to, even originarting in, oneself) 
those relations — material, economic, and interpersonal — which are in 
fact social and, in a larger perspective, historical [. . .] subjectivity is an 
ongoing construction, not a fixed point of departure or arrival from which 
one then interacts with the world. On the contrary, it is the effect of that 
interaction — which I call experience^] (Alice Doesn't 159) 

Thereby, de Lauretis figures experience as the effect or product of a subject's 
involvment in a representational economy, "the process by which, for all social 
beings, subjectivity is constructed." 

Whereas Michelle Barrett insists on the irrelevance of discussions of 
ideology since the term "occludes the question of the body" (139), the texts I cite 
make the female body and experience of it, through it, and of the composition of 
knowledge by it, very much a matter of 'ideology, if not an ideological matter. 
For the texts I cite, the female body (as experience, as construction, as mode of 
knowledge) becomes the very field of relations to ideology. Jouissance and the 
bodies that register and seek to represent its experience in highly 
overdetermined language, effect a disruptive non-dialectical third term. Lacan, 
for example, participates in an ongoing discourse that links how experience 
becomes sexuated onto a prior, equally sexuated female body — that which, for 
instance, allowed the mystic to be figured along the same lines as the hysteric. 

My readings of theoretical and literary discussions of the body are not 
implied as essentialist, delimiting a specifically feminine corporeo-experience. I 
describe, rather, the formulation of the female body, qua formulations. Such a 

distinction becomes particularly necessary when discussing, for example, the 

Irigaray of Speculum and This Sex Wh ich Ts Not One who proposes a theory 

grounded specifically in women's sexual "difference" (chez Levinas 4 ). Spivak's 

framing of Bubaneswari Bhaduri in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" and A Critique 

of Postcolonial Reason invokes a body specifically (self-) framed qua "woman's" 

within the matrix of local nationalist phallopolitics and global phallocapital. By 

"phallocapitalism"and "phallocapital" I mean the intersection of patriarchy in its 

various formations (phallic, masculist, Symbolic, 5 etc.) and current strains of 

capitalism with which it colludes in its specific locales and which perpetuate it 

across the geopolitical globe. 6 While the two appear synonymous, however, I do 

not intend that patriarchy and capital predicate each other. Rather, I discuss the 

current relation between patriarchies and global capital in situ. Patriarchy itself 

here takes different meanings, particularly in the contexts discussed by Spivak, 

and the Subaltern Studies group. There I will use variations of the formula "local 

nationalist phallopolitics" to describe the intersection of local forms of patriarchy, 

4 For specific discussion of Levinas' influence on the Irigaray of Speculum and This Sex Which Is 
Not Qne see Tina Chanter, Ethics of Eros: Irigaray' s Rewriting of the Philosophers: see also 
Ophelia Schutte, "A Critique of Normative Heterosexuality: Identity, Embodiment, and 
Sexual Difference in Beauvoir and Irigaray." Hypatia. 12:1 (1997). 40-62. 

5 By which term I do not necessarily posit the non-phallic or counter-phallic as "Semiotic" a la 
Kristeva, etc. , nor do I maintain an oversimplified binary. 

6 For a standard example of this discourse, see particularly Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case 
for Socialist Feminism. Ed. Zillah Eisenstein. New York: Monthly Review P, 1978. 

local politics (as influenced by religion, caste systems, etc) 7 , and nationalism 

which comprises the situations invoked by Spivak and others. 

In "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak condemns what Radhakrishnan 
would later term "[t]he phenomenological privileging of concrete experience" 
(Radhakrishnan 41), that is, universalist appeals to a particularlized or highly 
Euro-localized sense of "concrete reality" such as those upon which Foucault or 
Deleuze found their critiques of capital: "It has helped positivist empiricism — 
the justifying foundation of advanced capitalist neocolonialism — to define its 
own arena as 'concrete experience/ 'what actually happens' " ("CSS?" 275). Such, 
Spivak insists, is the purview and the fault of the (inattentive Euro-)intellectual 
who deploys such arguments from such grounds. 

The sense of experience that de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray emphasize 
in terms of the female mystic, I suggest, simultaneously does and does not fall 
before the same endictment. Certainly de Beauvoir emphasizes the existential 
situation of the Euro-Christian female mystic and her experience, and therefrom 
posits a refiguring and rethinking of a universalized sense of woman's progress 
toward an equally universalized self-realization. Lacan and Irigaray also similarly 

operate within universalized senses of puissance and experience a priori of a 

7 1 do not ludicrously imply that such are the characteristics of local politics in only de/ post- 
colonized contexts, from which Euro-Christian contexts would supposedly remain immune, but 
rather that their specificities play out in different ways, and thus Postcolonial theoretical 
formulations evoked from them are formulated differently — see my clarification on the 
specifically Euro-Christian context of French theoretical discussions, figurations, and uses of 
the female mystic later in this chapter. I use the term in a way inspired by Meyda Yegenoglu: 
she warns of the expectation that, by raising an issue (for her, veiling) within a certain context 
(for her, Orientalism), she will give an "insider" view, which only satisfies the same soi- 
disant benign Western gaze (Colonial Fantasies 121). Rather, as Yegenoglu insists, "if we 
follow the spirit of analysis we can no longer treat the oppresssion of women by indigenous 
patriarchy and by colonialism as two separate issues" (122). For a discussion of the specificities 
of caste in local national postcolonial phallopolitics (also in terms of the body as a grid on 
which such politics are played) see Partha Chatterjee, "Caste and Subaltern Consciousness." 
Subaltern Studies VI: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Ed. Ranajit Guha. Oxford: 
Oxford UP, 1989. 169-209; for a discussion of the similar play of religion, see Dipesh 
Chakrabarty, 'The Time of History and the Time of Gods," The Politics of Culture in the 
Shadow of Capital. Durham NC: Duke UP, 1997. 35-59; for a (proleptic) discussion of the 
intersection of the two, see Shahid Amin, "Gandhi as Mahatma," and Partha Chatterjee 
"More on Modes of Power and the Peasantry" in Selected Subaltern Studies. Eds. Ranajit Guha 
and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. 

universalized notion of woman. As the title of a Naomi Schor essay that explores 

such reductions from Bordieu to Wittig indicates, "French Feminism Is a 

Universalism": the localized experience of women in France serves as 

synecdochic exemplar for that of woman tout court. 8 Yet what saves them from 

the complete indictment and places these discussions in asymptosis with those 

such as Spivak's, I aver, is each discourse's concern for the contradictory 

experience of and within ideology that each discourse hearkens to, and from 

which each derives its rubric. 


Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan reminds us that "Socrates claims that the 
gods who inspire the poets into utterance have also made them blind, that is, 
cognitively incompetent. Poets 'express' but know not what they express" (Diasporic 
Mediations 99 emphasis mine). 9 The formula "not-know/do" thus describes both 
ideology and imaginative creativity in terms of textuality. This formula also 
permutes Marx's description of ideology, and indicates the proximity of 
imaginative creativity to ideology. As Althusser posits, ideology is itself 
imaginative creation. Yet the inclusion of poets indicates an imaginative creation 
of texts. It is this that Kant has in mind when he posits the "material sublime," 
that which, while having material effects,is unrepresentable in itself (Kant 120- 

8 Schor's article, citing as it does discussions such as Todorov's of a particularly Francophone 
"ethnocentric universalism," insists that "what binds virtually all major French feminists from 
Simone de Beauvoir to Michele le Doeuff is a common allegiance to the universal that contrasts 
starkly with the strenuous anti-universalism to be found among nearly all contemporary 
American feminist theoreticians" (16). See Chapter 3, note 2, on Simone de Beauvoir and Gisele 
Halimi's text Pjamila Boupacha. 

9 Hereafter cited as DM. Radhakrishnan further elaborates the contradiction: "the poets who, 
in their unselfconsciousness, express the divine become promulgators of doxology and 
apocryphal knowledge, whereas the philosopher, in his secondary capacity as knower- 
theorist-interpreter, founds epistemic truth" (100). Here Radhakrishnan discusses Socrates' 
dialogue with Ian the rhapsode, whom Radhakrishnan "remembers" as posing the rhapsode as 
a mimic (simulacrist). Again, we see the foundation of an argument on the grounds of an 
(accepted) contradiction between "ideology" and "science," or "scientific knowledge" which 
posits any other "knowledge "mysticism." See also my earlier indication of de Certeau's 
propositions of the "mystic" genre as an epistemology unto itself, as well as a particular 

122). For the literary characters and theoretical figures I discuss, knowledge and 

(its) experience 10 irrupt in texts created to represent their subjects' "Imaginary 

relationship" to not only their "Real conditions of existence" but also to that 

same knowledge and experience. As I elaborate below, expression itself, that is 

representation, also constitutes its own experience. Radhakrishnan describes a 

writing of an experience which constitutes something indescribable not only 

because of the insuf ficieny of language (as in Laan and de Beauvoir), nor of the 

dominant ear's inability or refusal to hear (as in Spivak and Fanon), but also 

because that experience's |iiu-te articulation almost immediately afterward 

actually becomes part of the very experience later represented. 

As I will expound in the next chapter, representation becomes a fulcral 

issue in discussions and formulations of ideology. We are discussing distinct but 

simultaneous and related (senses of) representation: the articulation of 

experience and knowledge in the sense of ideology; similarly, that of the 

contradiction so experienced; and that effected by my selected writers' 

figuration. I intend representation in a sense analogous to that described by 

Judith Butler: 

On the one hand, representation serves as the operative term within a 
political process that seeks to extend visibility and legitimacy to women as 
political subjects; on the other hand, representaion is the normative 
function of a language which is said either to reveal or to distort what is 
assumed to be true about the category of women [. . .] The domains of 
political and linguistic 'representation' set out in advance the criterion by 
which subjects themselves are formed, with the result that representation 
is extended only to what can be acknowledged as a subject. In other 
words, the qualifications for being a subject must first be met before 
representsation can be extended. (Gender Trouble 4) 

On the road to reformulating the Marxian proposal of "ideology" into that of 
"discourse," Foucault muses on not only the subject's perception of its 
relationship with language and representation, but also on the speech-act and 
subjects' construction in and by language, and reframes Marx's formula in terms 

10 For a discussion of the problematics of "women's experience" as a viable discourse in post- 
Second Wave feminism, see Sonia Kruks (131-152). 

of language: "Expressing their thoughts in words of which they are not the 

masters, enclosing them in verbal forms whose historical dimensions they are 

unaware of, men believe their speech is their servant and do not realize that they 

are submitting to its demands" (Order of Thing s 297). 

Sonia Kruks' attempt to reconfigure the notions and relations of 

articulation and women's experience reminds us that language itself is an often 

(in-)accessible experience: 

language is never a neutral medium through which we can capture 
previously unvoiced experience, and experience is indeed altered in acts of 
linguistic formulation. But the costs of reducing women's experience to 
feminist linguistic creation alone are high. For personhood then becomes 
an attribute of linguistic competence and is denied to the silent or silenced 
(134) 11 

According to Lacan, female mystics know that they experience something, that 
they're having an experience, but they do not know what it is — despite the fact 
that they can represent that experience, but presumably not a knowledge of it, in 
their writings which Lacan insists are "the best thing there is." As Fredric 
Jameson insists, the "unknowable" is not "unrepresentable" (Postmodernism 53). 
Similarly, Terry Eagleton invokes from Kant the sublime as "an object which 
cannot be represented" (151), which sense informs Zizek's Sublime Object of 
Ideology as ideology's own unrepresentable object. 

One example of the tension between the unknowable and 
unrepresentable is the mystic's "moan of ecstasy," particularly as represented by 
Bernini's famous scuplted tableau. In Chapter 3 1 discuss the overdetermined 
figurations of St. Teresa as a body-ladened, highly eroticized and sexuated 
hysteric. I do not deny that the moan may have an erotic content, or may itself 

11 Kruks subscribes here to the Freudian (and Austinian) concept of the speech-act (as does the 
Barthes of "Death of the Author" and "From Work to Text"): the writer/ scriptor's production 
appears an irruption whereby language comes to speak itself. This conceptualization also bears 
on my discussion of the female mystic and female postcolonial subaltern figures, in terms not 
only of "who speaks" or "from where" (as concerns Stuart Hall) but also of what the 
speech/ language recorded on the page or by the body means, as well as the implications of 
subsequent formulations I describe chez de Beauvoir, Lacan, Irigaray, Spivak, etc. derived 

enact, perform, its own erotics. Rather, I aver that the moan is especially sexed 

and sexuated, that it has a sexuality and an erotics ascribed to it by listeners, 

viewers, readers — those who later translate and re-present it. "Moan," the 

term, already operates as a determining erotic signifier, as a signifier that 

ascribes an erotics. If the ecstatic moan articulates an experience and evinces an 

event otherwise indescribable or inarticulable, then the signifier "moan" ascribes 

a particular content to the moan itself. Both Bernini's statue 12 and others' readings 

of it, translations of a translation (of still a further translation), evince this 

process. Bernini's translation of St. Teresa's account into stone effects a multiple 

representational collapsing of the event that evokes Teresa's moan, of the act of 

moaning itself, and Bernini's own attempt to interpret in stone the written 

account of an otherwise inexpressible event. But how to represent a moan, in 

marble, on a page, or otherwise? What does one represent in so doing? 

At least in marble or on the page, presumably, the moan cannot be 

represented: one can depict the mouth in a certain physical posture associated 

with moaning, but no more than St. Teresa's own writing can Bernini's statue 

recapture or adequately represent that lost moaning. Moaning becomes 

indesociable from the experience that seems to predicate or evoke the moan 

12 Bearing in mind that the statue of St. Teresa and the Angel is itself only part of an elaborate 
tableau that itself explicitly foregrounds the multiple and simultaneous "stagings" involved in 
both Teresa's own writings and later readings of them, including the patrons who commissioned 
the tableau from Bernini. The issue of specularity concerning both Bernini's tableau and 
discussions of it intersects that of ideology as a matter of reading, particularly as expressed by 
Marx and Engels through the visual metaphor of the camera obscura in The German Ideology 
(Arthur 47). 

itself. 13 Even by St. Teresa's own post-facto, post-event account, moaning 

becomes as much a part of the event, of her mystical "experience," as the golden 

spear which the Angel supposedly dips into her breast: "The pain was so severe 

that it made me utter several moans [. . .] This is not a physical, but a spiritual 

pain [. . .] if anyone thinks I am lying, I pray God, in His goodness, to grant him 

some experience of it" (St. Teresa 210). 

As I stated earlier, each of the figures I discuss describes representations of 

(a) contradictory experience that remains denotatively unrepresentable, but that as 

experience comprise knowledges which exceed masculist, phallocapitalist, 

imperialist and colonialist representational systems even in those system's own 

terms. For instance, to de Beauvoir and Fanon it is a matter of subjects' 

representation to themselves by their respective "dominant" discourses 14 within 

which they live: women as "women," blacks as "blacks" or "negroes" rather 

than as subjects, or whose supposed subjecthood is written in those terms. The 

knowing avered in Marx and Engels' formulations, as I detail in the next chapter, 

is that of the interpellated subject, and not the knowing of masculist discourse or 

the colonizer. Homi Bhabha posits that 

13 By this statement, I posit the mystic's moan as an example of that which is simultaneously 
constative and peformative: in Austinian terms, that which refers to something else and 
thereby ascribes it anteriority, and that which consitutes an act or experience in itself. As 
Judith Butler posits, 

[i]f one wonders how a linguistic theory of the speech act relates to bodily gestures, one 
need only consider that speech itself is a bodily act with specific linguistic 
consequences. Thus speech belongs exclusively neither to corporeal presentation nor to 
language, and its status as word and deed is necessarily ambiguous. This ambiguity has 
consequences for the practice of coming out, for the insurrectionary power of the speech 
act, for language as a condition of both bodily seduction and the threat of inquiry. 
(Gender Trouble xxv) 
Admitting even the infinitessimal time-delay in this process, whereby a registration that 
responds to a stimulus becomes part of and redefines that stimulus as it continues to transpire 
through time, I suggest that the moan incorporates the body into the experience that 
supposedly the subject cannot "know." The sonorous vibration of the throat during the moan, the 
reverberation of the moan through the body, and the mystic's hearing of her own moan during 
the experience, effect a contradictory logic that undoes the analogous contradiction between 
knowing and doing for Marx, and knowing and experiencing for Lacan. 

14 1 use the formula "domninant discourse" here despite Barthes' claim that all "discourses" are 
dominant, to emphasize its character 


Some [racist discursive] practices recognize the difference of race, culture 
and history as elaborated by stereotypical knowledges, racial theories, 
administrative colonial experience, and on that basis institutionalize a 
range of political and cultural ideologies that are prejudicial, 
discriminatory, vestigial, archaic, 'mythical', and, crucially, are recognized 
as being so. By 'knowing' the native population in these terms, 
discriminatory and authoritarian forms of political control are considered 
appropriate. ("The Other Question" 83) 

Such a working of power, for Bhabha, is representative: 

if my deduction from Fanon about the particular visibility of colonial 
power is justified, then I would extend that to say it is a form of 
governmentality in which the 'ideological' space functions in more openly 
collaborative ways with political and economic exigencies [. . .] Such 
visibility of the institutions and apparatuses of power is possible because 
the exercise of colonial power makes their relationship obscure, produces 
them as fetishes, spectacles of a 'natural' /racial pre-eminence ("The Other 
Question" 83) 

In effect, Bhabha describes the mystifications at work in representation of 
subjects' relation to power. 


Spivak's invocation of Lacan in her study of a "literary representation of 
the subaltern," which I discussed in Chapter 1, offers a few preliminary senses of 
jouissance: as excess in phallic systems of use- value, as "never not political," 15 as 
"beyond the phallus" because of its affiliation with the feminine. Ellie Ragland- 
Sullivan reminds us of the sexual connotation imbricated in the term, and 
suggests that "Jouissance means sexual pleasure, but at an abstract level it could 
be described as the temporary pleasure afforded by substitute objects or by 
others' recognition (substitutes for the original other). At this juncture jouissance 
and Desire meet in the concept of plus-de-jouir" (271). As pleasure derived from 
a substitution, jouissance maintains an ambivalent relation to representation. So 

15 Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan nevertheless raises an analogous point concerning the 
transecting discourses of the "more than" and "the political" in the work of Elizabeth Meese, 
who "goes on to ask the all-important question: 'What then is the excess, the 'more than' the 
personal which constitutes The Political (not as reduction) or the political-taken-personally? 
And what is the 'more than' or 'other than' the political which constitutes The Personal!?]'" 
(Diasporic Mediations 124). 

figured, puissance designates not only an experience of or relationship to 

ideology, but also, ostensibly, that which exceeds the event horizon of 


The very proliferation of definitions for puissance indicates its own quality 

of excess, superfluity, surplus, superabundance. It overflows, yet at the same 

time, puissance is not a lone quantity. As my discussion of the rape scene in 

Cisneros' novel will indicate, puissance, as excess, operates within a field shared 

with other phenomena of excess. As Zizek and others intimate, this is the 

danger: puissance is not the only form of excess, and so can be appropriated. Yet 

that same element of puissant excess is what allows puissance, in other forms, to 

exceed and escape oppressive situations. As even my discussion in Chapter 5 

shows, puissance is a constituent rhetorical and conceptual element at the heart 

of Gayatri Spivak's essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" and her figuration of 

Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri. To state a point: rape is by no means puissance, any 

more than ideology is. Yet ideology, rape, and puissance all operate within an 

analogical field delineated by excess, and unknowability. Rape exceeds the 

bounds of sexual conduct and respect for the singularity of individuals. Ideology 

denotes that disjuncture between knowledge and action, knowledge and 

experience, and despite its material effects and manifestations, cannot ever itself 

be grasped. 

At the same time that it connotes excess, beyond, the unrepresentable, 

and that which escapes, puissance also denotes "enjoyment" in terms of 

"possession" or "enjoyment of." To enjoy the use of something by having it or 

having access 16 to it: puissance implies a modicum of agency (Lacan 3). Like the 

lingual-conceptual twist posed by Freud's Unheimliche and that of the mystic, 

then, puissance encompasses paradox. In an Irigarayan moment, Spivak suggests 

that puissance "would still be the place where an unexchangeable excess can be 

6 This is Lacan's sense of usufruct, typically, the enjoyment of something belonging to another 
(Fink 3). 

imagined and figured forth" ("LRS" 259). In another Spivakian chiasmus, 

whereby "thought is the puissance or excess of being/' the copula is renders 

being as the excess or puissance of thought ("LRS"261). Leon S. Roudiez suggests 

puissance "is sexual, spiritual, physical, conceptual at one and the same time"(16). 

Slavoj Zizek asks how the interpellation described by Althusser happens, 

and reads the phenomenon through puissance: 

this external 'machine' of State Apparatuses exercises its force only in so 
far as it is experienced, in the unconscious economy of the subject, as a 
traumatic, senseless injunction [. . .] this 'internalization', by structural 
necessity, never fully succeeds, [. . .] there is always a residue, a leftover, a 
stain of traumatic irrationality and senselessness sticking to it, and [. . .] 
this leftover, far from hindering the full submission of the subject to the ideological 
command, is the very condition of it: it is precisely mis non-integrated surplus 
of senseless traumatism which confers on the Law its unconditional 
authority: in other words, which — in so far as it escapes ideological sense 
— sustains what we might call the ideological jouis-sense, enjoyment-in- 
sense (enjoy-ment), proper to ideology (SOI 43-44) 

Apparently, there is puissance and there is puissance; Zizek's particular reading 
of Lacan and Althusser thus subscribes to a reinscriptive puissance, and not the 
excess-as-escape of Irigaray or Barthes. Zizek's phrasing draws on a particular 
Lacan description of puissance: "What is jouissance? Here it amounts to no more 
than a negative instance (instance). Jouissance is what serves no purpose" (Fink 
3). 17 Zizek suggests that the apparent purposelessness of jouissance is precisely 
what makes it potentially reinscribable, reappropriable, in ideological 
mystification. Zizek offers here an elucidation of the ambivalence 18 of the relation 
between jouissance and ideology — an ambivalence central to such contradictions as 

17 From Lacan's lecture "On jouissance." Bruce Fink, who translated this seminar, alerts us to the 
confusion that often occurs when "Lacan's instance, like Freud's Instanz, is often translated as 
'agency' [which] in no way conveys the insistence so important to Lacan's use of the term" (Fink 
3 n.9). 

18 While Zizek briefly surveys "two complimentary procedures of the 'criticism of ideology"' — 
one "discursive" and the other focused on/ through "enjoyment" — he nevertheless relies on the 
problematic presumption of a "pre- ideological enjoyment structured in fantasy" (125 emphasis 
mine). While my project does not offer the space to investigate this problematic further, I will 
aver that this presumption contradicts Zizek's own schema here, since the very "fantasy" that 
Zizek invokes would seem itself to be either/ both ideological or an ideological product. 

that discussed in Chapter 6 between the figure of Bhaduri that Spivak provides 

and the rhetorical use Spivak that makes of that figure. 

As we will see, related notions oijouissance think through the discourse on 
ideology I have been tracing. I do not myself equate the experience oijouissance 
with that of ideology (nor of the subaltern). Rather, I aver that as evinced by the 
uses and definitions oijouissance by the theoretical and literary texts I read here, 
the workings oijouissance (as sexual and political excess) comprise analogous 
formulations of ideology. Their descriptions and rhetorical gestures make female 
sexual experience itself a /the terrain for subjectivization in or resistance to 
ideology, which appears why they invoke the particular figures they do. The 
discourses I have described either presuppose women's alienation from their 
own sexuality (as excess), or propose their alienation from any knowledge or 
adequate articulation of that sexuality, or deny both these theses in favor of one 
of realization and articulation that mimic alienation and muteness to subvert 
phallic sexual economies. Some form counterclaims that it is not just sexual 
jouissance that women "experience." Each discourse, however, marks experience 
and articulation, representation, as simultaneous and mutually informative, as 
the modes which perform the kinds of representation at the centre of any notion 
of "ideology." As Spivak states, "Knowledge is played out or mapped out on the 
entire map of the speaking being, thought is the jouissance or excess of being" 
("Literary Representation" 261). 

Jouissance is not an unproblematic category or concept. As my discussion 
of the chapter "Red Clowns" shows, jouissance maintains an uneasy proximity to 
other elements of excess, superabundance, and unrepresentability. For instance, 
Kaplana Seshandri-Crooks discusses jouissance as an integral formulation in racist 
discourses that works to the promote the sanctity of Whiteness. While Seshandri- 
Crooks insists that "the visible bodily marks of race serve to guarantee 
Whiteness as something more than its discursive construction" (59 italics mine) 

which thereby renders Whiteness deconstructable, she also posits puissance as 

the conservative, reappropriative purview of the Same: "[a]s the master signifier 

of race, Whiteness maintains the structure of (visible) difference [. . .] which 

locates the subject as desiring (thus eternally lacking) Whiteness [. . .] it is our 

drive for supremacy, for the puissance of absolute humanness, that sustains our 

active [gaze]. Setting aside the historical fact that such a goal is impossible because 

race has no purchase on the body's puissance, or in anything beyond its own 

cultural origins, we must nevertheless take up the persistence of the fantasy of 

Whiteness" (59-60). Seshandri-Crooks posits puissance as that which, through its 

superfluity, indicates lack — in race terms, blackness as the perceived and 

promulgated lack of Whiteness. 

Neither do I posit puissance wholly unproblematically as the mode 
through which my selected literary and theoretical figures negotiate their 
relations in/ to "puissance." As I indicated earlier in this chapter, the relationships 
I propose between "experience" and "knowledge" as an experience for these 
figures must necessarily remain open to question. Within the context of 
critiquing Foucaulfs distinguishing between "legitimate" and "coercive" forms 
of representation, Radhakrishnan speaks of revolutionary movements that 
"create their own leaders and intellectuals who are interested in making sure that 
the revolution does not peter out into an 'eternally placed presenf or into the 
intransitivity of puissance as an anarchist nirvana" (Diasporic Mediations 40). He 
thus denounces "puissance" as a kind of idealist cop-out for engagement. I agree 
with Radhakrishnan insofar as his point on a cautionary stance toward easy 
invocations of puissance. 

I diverge from Radhakrishnan, though, at the point of his particular 
dismissal of puissance as (only) intransitive. Here Radhakrishnan follows the 
etymology of puissance from the intransitive jouir, but does not see pleasure as a 
mode of either production, knowledge, or action. His attention to the 

intransivity of puissance reciprocally emphasizes an oppositional transivity. Yet 

we have already seen in Lacan, vis-a-vis puissance, a linking of the intransitive 

and transitive: Lacan's statement "[t]here is a puissance proper to her and of 

which she herself may know nothing, except that she experiences it" 19 sets 

intransitive "puissance" and transitive "experience" (eprouve) in both textual and 

conceptual proximity. Zizek comes close to considering puissance as sufficiently 

transitive to serve part of the production process, even if only as an enabling 

element of that process, puissance appropriated, as the "enjoyment-in-sense 

(enjoy-ment) proper to ideology" that ideology co-opts because it poses an 

excess from whose energy ideology draws its conviction. 

I deploy just such an ambivalent understanding of puissance; why my 

discussion takes into account at each step caveats such as Zizek's that would pose 

puissance as an ambivalent field or event-horizon of potentiality. Each of the 

theoretical figures of the mystic, the raced colonized, and the subaltern female 

work through analogous ambivalences of puissance in relation to the permutable 

elements of ideology. It is this problematic of puissance that Esperanza creatively 

negotiates in Cisneros' novel through the ambivalence effected between her 

rape and her strategy of representation around the traumatic event itself. As we 

will see, the rape and Esperanza's formation of a workable knowledge of the 

experience through complex manipulations of representative elements, situate 

the rape and puissance, like ideology and puissance, into asymptotic proximity 

because of their analogous but irreducible qualities of excess. 


In representing the aporia of her rape, Esperanza includes the phrase "I 

love you, Spanish girl," repeated by her anglo rapist. Esperanza thus enacts an 

ambivalent representation. She ostensibly "gives voice" to her rapist within her 

own narrative of the rape. A t first reading, it is easy to miss that this is a novel 
19 « II y a une jouissance a elle dont peut-€tre elle-meme ne sait rien, sinon qu'elle l'6prouve» 
(Lacan 64). r 

utterly without quotational punctuation. We receive others' voices, but always 

depicted on the same orthographic plane, the same scriptural level, as 

Esperanza's own voice. As such, these voices literally speak through her. 

Macrologically, the entire novel, then, could be considered as a simultaneous act 

of Darstellen (depiction) and Vertreten (substitution). This is not to say that all the 

other voices are reducible to, or are collapsed into Esperanza's. Her rapisf s voice 

is no more differentiated on the page than anyone else's, save by the context of 

the chapter. Micrologically within that context, and synchronously with the racist 

ideology the voice carries, the voice becomes one of the defining elements of her 

aporetic representation of the rape. 

And yet she gives his words, and incorporates them into her knowledge 
of her experience. In effect, she tropes him: by depicting his voice, she has 
substituted it for him in her narrative schema, and put his words and the racist 
ideology they carry to other use. In so doing, she perpetrates a simultaneously 
(Althusserian) ideological and puissant act: she transitively represents him in 
order to effect a puissant trajectory beyond him. We have, then, a literary 
character working her own act of figuration that contributes to her 
representation of her knowledge of an unrepresentable experience. As much as 
she may empower him by his inclusion, she has already disavowed him by her 
continual orthographic leveling in previous chapters and those that follow. The 
intangibility to her inclusion of his words is synchronous with the excess of the 
rape. It remains an ambiguous portion of her representation of her experience 
and her knowledge of it. 

Much as Esperanza cannot represent the ideologies at work except as 
figured through their apparatuses, she also cannot represent the rape itself, even 
in her own writing (the novel in toto is presumably framed as Esperanza's own 
text). For her, the rape becomes unrepresentable: "I don't remember. It was 
dark. I don't remember. I don't remember. Please don't make me tell it all" (100). 


The final plea not to make her "tell it all" belies the prior claim that she does not 
remember the rape. She cannot bring herself to describe it, and does not 
mention it again. Given this unrepresentablility, which is not the same as the 
unrepresentability ascribed to puissance, the rape constitutes an excess utterly 
without any pleasure on her part, sexual or otherwise. Nevertheless, analogous 
to yet distinct from jouissance, the rape exceeds the bounds delimited by the 
knowledges to which Esperanza had until then been exposed: "It wasn't what 
you said at all" (99 emphasis mine). 

Yet simply because she cannot or will not represent the experience of the 
rape does not mean that she does not know what she experiences. As Jameson 
indicates, the "unknowable" is not "unrepresentable" — and thereby, the 
unrepresentable is nonetheless knowable. Esperanza knows very well what she 
experiences, and that she experiences it. Her rape brutally evinces a disjunctive 
contradiction between her knowledge of sex (even before the fact), and her 
experience of it as rape. Epistemologically, the rape effects an aporia: not only a 
limit to representability, but also demarking a limit to thinking the concepts of 
sex, love, subjectivity, and agency as transmitted to her through the medial and 
cultural elements she curses. The violence of the rape itself and of Esperanza's 
simultaneous experience of the contradiction between her knowledge and her 
actual experience indicate the aporia: the point at which not only is her old 
knowledge contradicted, or when she forms a new knowledge during the 
experience, but also the very experience of that simultaneous violation and 

creation. 20 

The narrative arrangement of the passage complexly works through 
interplays of ideologies and apparatuses, representations and non- 
representations, knowledges and experience. Esperanza frames the 
unrepresentable event with the narrative she builds around it. The first 
paragraph issues her indictment of Sally and the other media that transmitted to 
Esperanza her knowledges of sex. The second paragraph establishes the 
situational context for the rape. The third and fourth paragraphs narrate the 
events immediate to the rape, but leave the event itself unrepresented. The fifth 
paragraph echoes the indictments of the first. The final paragraph effects a 
temporal collapsing of Esperanza' s sensations immediately after the rape, the 
boys' departure, her final indictment of Sally, and the ethnic component of the 
rape — ideology, its apparatuses, and her experience through them. In its 
achronology, the arrangement of these disparate elements in a novel that 
otherwise flows linearly in all other chapters, narratively reproduces the 
disjuncture Esperanza experiences between conventionalized knowledge and her 

Yet in one instant in this sequence, at the beginning of the fourth 
paragraph which surmiseably marks the moment of her rape, the chronology 
jumps its furthest. Between the past-tense descriptions of the one boy she 
identifies ("I love you Spanish girl"), the past-tense description of her 

helplessness, and her plea ("I don't remember. Please don't make me tell it"), the 

20 Jacques Derrida and others describe such an effect as trauma, an event that cannot itself be 
represented (but which returns, revisits, or which the subject carries with herself). Slavoj 
Zizek proposes a particular relationship between trauma and ideology: "The function of 
ideology is not to offer us a point of escape from our reality but to offer us the social reality 
itself as an escape from some traumatic, real kernel" (SOI 45). Esperanza's social reality, 
however, is no less brutal than the ideologies that determine it — her unrepresentable 
experience exceeds Zizek's scope. See Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Cathy 
Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma. Narrative, and History: Ulrich Baer, Remnants of 
Song: Trauma and t he Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan: 
Dominick LaCapra, Writing History. Writing Trauma : Slavoj Zizek, On Belief . My thanks to 
Julian Wolfreys for discussion of this particular aspect of Esperanza's rape, which my project 
cannot further encompass here. 

narrative slips into the present tense: "Sally, make him stop." This point remains 

ambiguous as to whether Esperanza narratively inserts this thought into the 

rape post facto — or that this moment marks the event itself, by displacement. If 

the latter, then Esperanza registers the experience at the moment she 

experiences it, and that registration itself becomes part of the experience. Much 

as the unrepresentability of the rape makes the rape distinct from yet analogous 

to puissance, this particular slip into the present-tense direct address articulates a 

knowledge of an experience so simultaneous to the experience that it becomes 

part of the experience itself as it transpires. 

Despite its violently disjunctive effect between Esperanza's knowledge 
and her experience, the rape thereby produces a knowledge — one that operates 
outside official rubrics, that appeals to other senses of knowing that which 
cannot be represented, but that must be experienced to be known. It registers 
something beyond. This kind of knowledge is distinct but analogical to the non- 
knowledge ascribed to the female mystic: it does not fit the bounds of what 
counts as knowledge, so it is not considered knowledge . . . and yet one knows it. 
Strictu sensu, Esperanza's rape and the mystical experience of puissance are 
utterly disparate. Yet both effect a simultaneous experience of disjuncture 
between knowledge and experience, as well as a knowledge that does not 
subscribe to, and cannot be articulated within, conventional epistemologies and 

While Esperanza does not refer to the rape after that chapter, the 
knowledge she evinces of it becomes the basis of the composition of her dream 
domestic environment: "A House of My Own" (108). An event without presence, 
yet which has the force of an absent presence, the knowledge of the rape 
integrates itself into Esperanza's conviction to create a space for herself beyond 
the physical and ideological bounds of Mango Street, whence to return to Mango 
Street "for the others who cannot out" (110). As the three aunts remind her 

when they charge her to return to Mango Street, "You can't erase what you 

know" (105). Esperanza carries the aporia-knowledge with her, and cannot 

forget it, but instead uses it to craft her own space, her own subsequent 


Esperanza's writing, her representation of not only her experience and 
her knowledge of it, but also, to quote Althusser, of her imaginary relationship 
to her "Real conditions of existence," become her own mediation of these same 
elements. Her writing, poetry as well this novel's narrative itself, exceeds the 
bounds delimited for her by both the knowledges discussed above and her 
subsequent experience. As Barthes suggests, textual jouissance here serves as the 
linguistic doors through which both ideology and the imaginary "flow" (EX 13- 
14). Ideology, itself a particular imaginary, and "the imaginary," both constitute 
forms of knowledge. Early in the novel, Esperanza's beleaguered Aunt Lupe 
encourages her early writing: "You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza. 
You must keep writing. It will keep you free" (61). Esperanza dreams of her own 
domestic space containing "My books and my stories [. . .] a space for myself to 
go, clean as paper before the poem" (108). At the end of the novel, Esperanza 
prefigures her departure from Mango Street in conjunction with her writing, her 
representation of her experiences and her knowledge: "I put it down on paper 
and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says 
goodbye sometimes" (110). 

Yet like trauma and writing — and, sadly, like ideology — Esperanza must 
return. Just as her writing formulates her knowledge of her experience, and 
helps her mediate her experience of ideology through representation and 
narration, it also becomes the means to help other women. In this sense, 
Esperanza's text coincides with those of female mystics like St. Teresa: they "tell" 
not only to evince a knowledge of an otherwise unrepresentable experience, but 
also to help others toward such knowledge without having to be raped. The 

same aunts who remind Esperanza that "You can't erase what you know[,] You 

can't forget who you are" also charge her with a specific task: "When you leave, 

you must remember always to come back [. . . ] for the others [. . .] For the ones 

who cannot leave as easily as you" (105). She and her aunts project her 

figurations, her narration, as a mediation for others' experience of ideology. 

Given her particular navigation of ideological contradiction, Esperanza 
anticipates an equally particular project. In her projection she falls very much 
within the model of masculine-activity espoused by de Beauvoir as resolution 
and realization out of bad faith. This project, fraught with tensions and the 
implied underestimations of ideological mystification that I elaborate in the next 
chapters, just as ambivalently allows for its own failure. The novel and the 
narrative end in a series of future tense projections, a series of "I will" and "they 
willfs]". Esperanza's flight from Mango Street, and her disruptive, subversive 
return, remain only potentialities. The possibility remains that Esperanza and her 
texts' puissant potential can, or will, be reclaimed by the very Mango Street that 
claims most of the women in the novel. 

This very multiplicity effects puissance's resistant and counter-disruptive 
potential. Yet, as my reading of the rape scene in Cisneros' The House on Mang o 
Street indicates, the multiplicity and excess of puissance is always shadowed by 
other, reinscriptive and totalitarian, multiplicities and excesses. Neither I nor any 
of my selected texts treats puissance lightly, or glibly epouse puissance as an 
idealistic panacea. Rather, I use the term puissance to indicate the operative hope 
of resistance to ever-threatening reappropriation. Jouissance, in all its 
permutations, indicates responsible negotiation. 





[KJnowing always it was more than that. 

— narrator "We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like 


The concept of ideology is no less permu table than those of puissance, 
experience or representation. Three quarters of the way through Achy Obeja's 
short story "We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?" 
the Cuban-born female narrator describes a sexual encounter with "a Cuban, a 
politically controversial exile writer of some repute" that she specifically 
contrasts to her lovemaking with various anglos male and female (126). In this 
encounter the narrator derives a simultaneously political and sexual jouissance 
from setting multiple ideological discourses against each other. By such instances, 
Obejas' story thematically and schematically theorizes permutations of ideology 
by invoking multiple senses of jouissance. The story proposes that jouissance and 
ideology remain ambivalently related, and actually mediate each other. 

My reading of Obejas' story raises the question of ideology's conceptual 

viability in a time many have termed "post-ideological." It also offers the 

opportunity to survey the theories of ideology in operation for the other texts I 

study as well. I trace the development of the concept through Marx, Engels, 

Lukacs, Althusser, and Zizek to establish my discursive parameters for not only 

Obejas' story, but also for subsequent developments of the theory by 

deBeauvoir, Fanon, Lacan, Irigaray, Spivak, and Walker. Each of these 

discussions will draw on further permutations of the theory by Sartre, Gramsci 

and Foucault. As my readings proceed, it becomes apparent that ideology and 


puissance effect variations of a shared conceptual and discursive field, and so I 

work my readings of these narratives through my trope of St. Subaltern. 


Obejas' narrator occupies an odd place between not only nationalities and 
cultures, but also between ideological discourses that all lay claim to her through 
various institutions. Before their arrival on US shores, the narrator's family's 
situation had already been determined by U.S. ideological posturing: "this is 
1963, and no Cuban claiming political asylum actually gets turned away. We're 
evidence that the revolution has failed the middle class and that communism is 
bad"(113). As member of a special political-cultural group — refugee Cubans, 
which in U.S. terms amounts to an ethnicity — she is idealized, from her arrival, 
by not only U.S. anti-communist discourses, but also by her father's version of 
the same. She is fit to the field created by three parallel and simultaneous 
narratives: that of the U.S. preference for immigrant Cubans fleeing Castro 
under whatever auspices; that of her father's investment in those U.S. narratives 
only as a means to return to Cuba pending the overthrow of Castro; and that of 
the Castro government which scripts her as a wayward whose return is not only 
anticipated but welcomed. Each discourse seeks to exclude her "as the subject of 
[her] own history" (Guha 4). 1 

The father's dreams for the narrator, coincident with the general anti- 
communist rhetoric surrounding them — by the "Hungarian lady" at the INS 
office; the gross display of consumer products in the grocery store which effects 
a propagandistic example of US plenty — seek to script the narrator within 
particular discourses. "We did this when we first came to America" the 
Hungarian -American INS worker tells the narrator and herr parents as she pulls 
the car into the supermarket parking lot, "if s something only people like us can 

1 By invoking Guha's comments on representation of peasant insurgency in India I do not intend to 
trivialize the events to which Guha refers. Rather, I offer a permutation of that phenomenon 
to indicate the possible expansions of Guha's discourse to other situations and indicate the 
increasing complexity of what Guha notes as it continues through time. 

appreciate" (122). The use of "we" and "us" mystifies the plenitude around them 

by reducing her own and the Cuban family's distinct experiences with equally 

distinct communisms. In the grocery store the INS worker draws the family past 

the meat counter, evoking theatrical cries from the father. The worker turns and 

delivers her narrative of American-plenty-against-communist-deprivation to the 

gathering crowd of onlookers: "Yes, he came on a little boat with his whole 

family; look at his beautiful daughter who will now grow up well-fed and free" 

(123). The crowd congratulates the narrator's father, and "give him hugs and 

money, and welcome him to the U.S." (123). 

She is figured by the U.S. as emblematic of the lightness of capitalist 
plenitude over communist deprivation. Had they stayed in Cuba, the father later 
declares without irony, the narrator "would have been a young Communist, 
falling prey to the revolution's propaganda" (124). The narrator's father 
continually cites the narrator, in her youth, as the reason for their leaving Cuba. 
She becomes his stock excuse. The narrator's father has to a certain extent 
controlled the narrator's access to information and determined her conscious 
options. Just as he feeds her a particular "Cuba" and equally particular 
"America," he also hides from her her original Cuban passport, and the 
knowledge that she could have easily renewed her passport and returned to 
Cuba since Castro's government did not recognize her U.S. citizenship because 
she left Cuba as a child, under duress. "Do you think," her father yells when as 
an adult she confronts him and asks after her passport so that she might visit 
Cuba and see for herself,"I would let you betray us like that?" (126) 

Yet the narrator announces and details ajouissant element within both 
these coincident ideological discourses. Despite what her family is told by the INS 
workers, there remain "things that can't be told" (123). She enumerates 
experiences that do not fit the knowledge that "America" projects, that are either 
deliberately omitted or abjected from the nationalist myth-representation that all 

are "well-fed and free" and enjoy equal opportunity, or experiences that simply 

do not qualify as "experience" under that nationalist rubric. The narrator lists 

racial prejudice that keeps the family from decent housing in Miami or her 

mother from finding hairdressers, or the narrator's own "doing poorly on an IQ 

test because [she] didn't speak English, and getting tossed into a special 

education track, where it took until high school before somebody realized [she] 

didn't belong there" (123). She includes her father's failed suicide attempt when 

he comes to realize that the family "wasn't going back to Cuba anytime soon" 

(124). She ailminates this section with a series of untolds that coincide both the 

macrological and micrological ideological fields which mire her: the necessity of 

welfare despite all the family's efforts; the ambivalent trap of having to donate 

money to anti-Castro groups so as to appear sufficiently patriotic despite 

knowing that the money would be personally squandered by the collectors; and 

finally the realization of Nixon's utter apathy in the matter of Cuba (124). Later 

in life, reacting to her father's rejection of her "American" clothes, the narrator 

voices an untold, denouncing her father's pedantry to his face: 

for the first and only time in my life, I'll say, Look, you didn't come [to the 
U.S.] for me, you came for you; you came because all your rich clients 
were leaving, and you were going to wind up a cashier in your father's 
hardware store if you didn't leave [. . .JChrist, [you] only left because Fidel 
beat [you] in that stupid swimming race back when [you] were little. (121) 

In violent repercussion for this breach, her father kicks her unconscious. 

Schematically, the gross sense of abundance built up by the display in the 
grocery store contrasts drastically to the things "that can't be told" about life in 
the U.S. Those things, puissant already in that they exceed the U.S. propagandist 
self-image are also puissant in that they reveal the actual lacks obscured by the 
previous scene's depiction and enactment of American plenitude. This puissant 
element itself indicates other senses of ideology that have to do with 
contradictions and disjunctures between one's experience and one's knowledge 
of that experience. 


What senses of ideology are at play in Obejas' story? In Roland Barthes' 
terms of dominant political thought, the narrator's father and the U.S. that 
extends unquestioning, but not undemanding, asylum to the narrator's family 
specifically because they flee Cuba weave coincident national mythologies about 
each other. For the father, the U.S. is simply anti-communism, anti-Castro, all for 
the overthrow of Castro and the return of Cuba to its refugee middle classes. 
For the U.S., the narrator's family serves as an example of freedom for those 
who oppose Castro's regime, which is itself collapsed into a generalized 
"communism." The two suffuse and exploit each other. Yet ideology as a theory 
is not reducible to this illustration. Rather, it is a varied concept with a peculiar 
history, whose tracing will lead us back to Obejas' story. 

Tracing specific segments of that history reveals another history, 
however: that of the mystic as figure embedded in discourses about ideology. As 
a figure whose historical relation to discourses on jouissance and representation 
that I also pursue in subsequent chapters, the trope of the mystic, as trope, 
indicates the close proximity of jouissance to ideology. This proximty effects an 
ambivalent but dangerous field of potentiality for not only puissant mediation of 
ideology, but also for ideological mystification and reappropriation of jouissance. 
It also implicates the text as, paradoxically, one of the primary material fields 
which manifests the play of ideology. 

As noted, Slavoj Zizek offers an insightful discussion of Marx's own 
definition of ideology in Capital :"They do not know it, but they are doing it" 
(SOI 28). As Zizek explains, "The very concept of ideology implies a kind of basic, 
constitutive naivete : the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, of its own 
effective conditions, a distance, a divergence between so-called social reality and 
our distorted representation [...] the main point is to see how the reality itself 
cannot reproduce itself without this so-called ideological mystification" (SOI 28). 

Marx's formulation predicates, and Zizek's explanation later contextualizes, the 

similarly described phenomena of the mystic in de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray, 

the colonized in Fanon, and the subaltern in Spivak. In proximity to these 

figurations we may place the phenomenon of capitalist "cynicism" that Zizek 

derives from Peter Sloeterdijk: "The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance 

between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he none the less still 

insists upon the mask. The formula, as proposed by Sloeterdijk, would then 

be: 'they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing if "(29). 2 

Why ''Ideology" After the "End of Ideology"? 

"Before advancing any further," as Terry Eagleton warns, "it may be well 
to ask whether the topic of ideology really merits the attention we are lavishing 
upon it" (33). As with the earlier question concerning "reviving" the figure of the 
mystic, vis-a-vis my invocations of "ideology" one may ask "why even discuss, 
why raise the spectre 3 of 'ideology' when ideology's 'end' has already been 
'declared'?" As I stated earlier, Marx's suggestions indicate all elements of 
capitalist societies as subject(s) to/ in "ideology," if not always in the same way or 
in the same relation. This latter observation initiates later writers' redefining 
"ideology" (and its workings) tout court — if not their abandoning the term 

Stuart Hall notes that by the time of Capital. Marx's own formulations of 
"ideology" were so abstracted that Marx himself had abandoned the term 
(Politics and Ideology xv). No longer indicating a dominant mode of thinking or, 
pace Barthes, the mode of thought of the dominant, ideology now equally 
connotes, as Martin Seliger explains, "sets of ideas by which [subjects] posit, 
explain and justify ends and means of organized social action, and specifically 

2 As we will see, this concept invokes Sartre's concept of cynicism-as-lying: 'The ideal 
description of the liar would be a cynical consciousness, affirming truth within himself , 
denying it in his words, and denying that negation as such" (BN 48). 

3 1 derive this figure, and this question, in part from Zizek's introductory essay "The Spectre of 
Ideology" for the volume Mapping Ideolog y. 

political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, 

uproot or rebuild a given social order" (11 alteration mine). 4 Similarly, Stuart 

Hall denotes ideology as "those images, concepts and premises which provide 

the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand and 'make 

sense' of some aspect of social existence" 5 ("Whites of Their Eyes" 31). John B. 

Thompson notes the reinscriptive ideological uses made of the term "ideology" 

itself, as "the thought of the other, the thought of someone other than oneself. To 

characterize a view as 'ideological' is already to criticize it"(l). Eagleton amusingly 

refers to an " 'end-of-ideology' ideology" (4). Writers as diverse as Daniel Bell, 

Francis Fukuyama, Jurgen Habermas and Donna Haraway eulogize "ideology." 

Already in 1967, Guy Debord announced that "[s]ociety has become what 

ideology already was" (217) and that, as David Hawkes explains, "representation 

has become autonomous in fact" (168). Deleuze and Guattari insist that "There is 

no ideology and never has been" (Thousand Plateaux 4). 

According to Terry Eagleton, even Lacan contributed to the "end of 

ideology" movement: 

Whatever striking insights Lacan' s work has undoubtedly to offer, there is 
surely no doubt that its view of the human subject as a mere effect of 
some inscrutable Other, its scorn for the whole concept of political 
emancipation, and its contemptuous dismissal of human history as little 
more than a "sewer", has had its part to play in that jaundiced, 
disenchanted post-war ethos which goes under the name of "the end of 
ideology." (182) 

Eagleton's discussion itself presents one of the reasons I attend my selected 

4 As Thompson elaborates from Seliger, "Could it be argued that to conceive of ideology as ideas 
or utterances which serve to sustain a system of domination is unacceptable, because whether 
certain ideas or utterances serve to sustain a particular system or to undermine it will depend 
upon what the system is and the attitude adopted towards it? Such an argument would not 
show that this restrictive conception of ideology is unacceptable, but only that this conception 
does not provide a criterion for identifying certain ideas or utterances as ideological as such, 
independently of the particular conditions under which they are promulgated" (82). Fredric 
Jameson's entry for "ideology" in Keywords notes a "more neutral" sense in Marx's own work 
(156), particularly in the Contribution to the Critique of Political Philosophy. 

5 Both these working definitions abandon, as Jorge Larrain notes in Ideology and Cultural 
Identity, "both the original Marxian negative concept of ideology and Althusser's early 
negative version" (73). 

writers' invocations, direct or indirect, of ideology: throughout his discussion of 

"What Is Ideology?" Eagleton resorts to uttered statements as case studies or 

examples of ideological thought, without ever addressing the centrality of 

utterance, speech, the speech-act as either/both constative or performative, to 

his arguments. His dependence on textuality escapes his texf s own notice. Stuart 

Hall offers perhaps a more developed view, aware of its own reliance on 

rhetoricity: ideologies for Hall "work by constructing for their Subjects 

(individual and collective) positions of identification and knowledge which allow 

them to 'utter' ideological truths as if they were their authentic authors" 

("Whites of their Eyes" 32). Yet speech, utterance, and/ as representation, and an 

experience in itself, constitute each of my selected writers' conceptualizations of 

female (bodily and discursive) experience within phallocapital and ideology. The 

figures of the female mystic and subaltern are marked (as such) by their 

representation of their knowledge of their experience, as well as, in Lacan's 

sense, their relation to that knowledge as representation. 

As Terry Eagleton asks, 

[i]f ideology is less a matter of representations of reality than of lived 
relations, does this finally put paid to the truth/ falsehood issue? [. . . ] That 
I am experiencing something can't be doubted, any more than I can doubt 
that I am in pain; but what precisely my 'lived relations' to the social order 
consist in may be a more problematical affair than the Althusserians 
sometimes seem to think. (20) 

Eagleton here recapitulates both Marx's contradiction as well as Lacan's. As we 
will see, the writers I discuss take issue with the easy dismissal of 
"representations of reality" in that they discuss the representation of an 
experience outside the allowances of phallocapitalist epistemology and reality, as 
well as how what constitutes mystic and subaltern experience is itself 
represented by that same phallocapitalist epistemology, its languages, when 
measured against that (self)same reality. 

As I indicate later, perspectives such as Eagleton's treat reality as a 

universal category, dismissing the issue of representation in favour of "lived 

relations" — as if such relations themselves were not mediated through 

representation, by who represents whose reality to whom, in whose language, 

from whose epistemology — hereby constituting the very reality at play, in which 

one lives. Nor is it as David Hawkes suggests, that "[representation becomes 

indistinguishable from reality to the degree that the commodity form obscures 

the true nature of things" (154), which position overlooks the ways in which 

"commodity" itself would determine what "true" means in such a statement. I 

indicate later that such is one of the strengths of bigamy's figuration of the 

mystic, particularly in asymptosis with Spivak's figuration of the subaltern. 

Both negative and neutral senses of ideology, as Eagleton continues to 

note, nevertheless have their uses, and appear equally valid despite protests that 

such ambivalence dilutes the term's initial distinction of politically and materially 

oppressive thought. Certainly, through their respective discussions of the female 

mystic or subaltern, the writers I focus on invoke the concept (if not the term) in 

its radical sense of "the ways in which meaning (or signification) serves to sustain 

relations of domination" (Thompson 194). 6 But this is not meant to indicate that 

they each invoke ideology in the same way; given the numerous mediations 

each attends, the writers I have selected trace an ongoing conceptualization of 

relations between knowledge, experience, representation, and the circumstances 

and positions that mediate each of these elements. 

Contradiction: Marx 

As James Donald and Stuart Hall remark, "whether you adopt a marxist 

position on the question of ideology or not, any theory of ideology must deal, 

6 Jorge Larrain takes issue with Thompson's reliance on and reinscription of the 
"negative" connotation of "ideology" as limiting the term's scope, while at the same time 
Larrain admits that such limitation is, when attentively deployed, useful if not inescapable 
(Ideology and Cultural Identity 13-15). For Jiirgen Habermas (in Theory and Practiced and 
Anthony Giddens (in Studies in Political an d Social Theory^ "the very idea of domination is 
made equivalent to distorted communication" (Larrain 127). 

sooner or later, with Marx's challenging theses about ideology" and the 

concept's history (Donald and Hall xiv). One must address both "ideology" and 

its history as a concept. Despite the term's use "in its most contested form by 

Marx and Engels" (Donald and Hall xiv), it is their texts that become an arbitrary 

point of departure for the theoretical writers I discuss, since it is the arbitrary 

point to which the asymptotic discourses I examine mutually refer. 

Arguments about the term "ideology" frequently hinge on notions of an 
opposition to a presupposed, and often problematically universalized notion of 
truth. But as John B. Thompson warns, it would be a mistake "to assume that 
ideology is conceived by Marx and Engels exclusively, or even primarily, in 
opposition to 'truth'. What is equally or even more important in the work of 
Marx and Engels is the link between ideology and class domination" (81). As my 
discussion indicates, particular formulations of ideology bear on sex-class 
domination, particularly vis-a-vis formulations of woman. This construction itself 
comprises a particular relation to ideology, particularly through language about 
her body and her awareness of her experience of it. The literary characters and 
theoretical figures I discuss invoke Marx and Engels most directly, as each 
decribes women's position in ideology through the metaphor of a (sexual) 

The German Ideology to Capital 

Elaborating on Marx's use of the concept "ideology" in order to 

contextualize later (mis)invocations of it, Jorge Larrain states, 

It is true that Marx did not conceive of ideology as mere error opposed to 
truth or as a mere moral mistake, but he certainly did more than link 
meanings in general to domination in general: he specified a particular 
kind of distortion — the masking of contradictions — which stems from 
and conceals an 'inverted' reality in which the real subjects are treated as 
objects. In this sense Marx did not totally separate the fact of domination 
from epistemologically and morally negative considerations. (Ideolog y 
and Cultural Identity 14) 

Tn The German Ideolog y 7 Marx and Engels discuss ideology dialectically, 

formulated through the distinction between and opposition of ideas and real 

conditions (i.e. "truth"). They figure this opposition as the contradiction between 

monopoly and the working class (Pascal xii). Marx had earlier traced such 

oppositions 8 in the fourth chapter of The Holy Family and clearly delineated 

them as positive /negative. Marx and Engels there considered the Hegelian 

synthesis as the negation of, or abolition of, private property as that which 

maintains the class system. The synthesis thereby evaporates the very 

contradiction that creates, defines, and actuates the category "proletariat" — a 

project analogous to that which Spivak, as we will see, espouses in her figuration 

of the "subaltern" category. 

As R. Pascal states in his introduction to the English translation of The 

German Ideolog y, however, the formulation of ideology therein presented 

"must not be considered as expressing the final opinions of Marx and Engels" on 

the matter (xv). Engels himself in his 14 July, 1893 letter to Franz Mehring, 

wherein Engels first uses the phrase "false consciousness" to describe 

"ideology," himself laments his and Marx's delinquency in further developing 

the concept vis-a-vis ideology's origins (Selected Correspondence 511). Marx's 

later phrasing in Capital — "they know not what they do, by they are doing it" 

— nevertheless recapitulates Engels' in The German Ideology: "That the material 

life-conditions of the persons inside whose heads this thought process goes on in 

the last resort determine the course of this process remains of necessity 

unknown to these persons, for otherwise there would be an end to all 

ideology" (Engels 65-6). This latter recapitulation and further abstraction by Marx 

is that to which Zizek turns. The discussion in The German Ideology, beginning 

7 1 have used both R. Pascal's and C.J. Arthur's editions of The German Ideolog y. When quoting 
either of these editor's Introductions or editorial notes, I cite by editor's name, e.g. "(Pascal 201 
n8)". Unless otherwise cited, quotations of Marx and Engels' text of The German Ideology come 
from the Pascal edition. 

8 E.g. "proletariat" /"wealth", "proletariat"/ "private property;" this later developed in Marx 
and the Marxist tradition into that between "ideology"/ "science". 

as it does with the realm of religion, remains restricted to production economics 

and a restricted dialectical relation to "truth" and "real conditions." There is as 

yet no third term to disrupt the dialectic, no mediation of the relation, nor clear 

field upon which the relation plays out — hence Althusser's, and Lacan's, 

concern with representation. 

Marx, Mysticism, and Mediation 

Marx and Engels' discussions of ideology have never not included the 
religious, and a sense of a history of religion. 9 Religion, Marx and Engels aver, 
"compensates in the mind for a deficient social reality; it reconstitutes in the 
imagination a coherent but distorted solution which goes beyond the real world 
in an attempt to resolve the contradictions and sufferings of the real world" 
(Larrain 11). In Marx's own terms, religion offers "an inverted consciousness of 
the world, because they are an inverted world" ("Contribution" 244). Yet Marx 
and Engels' discussions of religion and ideology focused mainly on socitey-wide 
or class- wide effects, and seldom on particular religious figures within the same 
matrix. In proposing religion's inversion of proper human focus, i.e. on the 
divine /supernatural created in response to and in protest of human suffering 
rather than on the material conditions and causes of human suffering, this 
inquiry overlooks those individuals who, embroiled in concomitant economies 
of sex and sexuation, themselves (re)figure particular responses to such 

Despite the terms' utter disparity, the figure of the mystic and the Marxian 
notion of mystification inform each other, particularly in Marx's formulation of 
commodity fetishism through the "mystical character of the commodity" 10 and 
the subsequent mystification of the process of production. "Mystification" 

contains, of course, the "my stic" figure, but linked to the verb facere, "to make," 

9 E.g. the centrality of Bruno Bauer's, and of course Feuerbach's, discussions of the operations of 
religion to Marx and Engels' critique of the Young Hegelians in The German Ideology and 

10 "Der mystiche Charakter der Ware" (Kapital 47). 

connoting a "making difficult or obscuring." Marx's formulation of mystification, 

however, emphasizes only the denotation of mystery as the hidden or the 

unknowable. This sense begs the question of the other, contradictory denotation 

that Marx ignores: mystery as another form of knowledge, as that which can be 

known but not through conventioanl rubrics or epistemologies. 

Marx notes that "right down to the eighteenth century, the different 
trades were called 'mysteries' (mysteres), into whose secrets none but those 
initiated by their profession and their practical experience could penetrate. Large- 
scale industry tore aside the veil that concealed from men their own social 
process of production and turned the various spontaneously divided branches of 
production into riddles, not only to outsiders but even to the initiated" (Capital 
616 emphasis mine). Thus Marx describes the division of production into its 
disparate parts, which are so maintained both in the process itself and, more 
importantly, within the view of workers. Yet Marx again builds his logic from 
the exclusive and obfuscating senses of mystery as controlled and hidden 
knowledge, into which supplicants must be initiated. Marx cannot here think 
beyond the limit of mediation, the very limit that the figure of the female mystic 
herself aims to exceed. 

Although Marx derogatorily equates mystical with mystification through 
most of his corpus," he was no stranger to the figure of the saint. By The 
German Ideology, "saints" already populated Marx and Engels' figurative 
universe. Yet whereas "Saint Max [Stirner]" and "Saint Bruno [Bauer]" 
"interpre[ted] material relationships as spiritual" (Pascal 201 n.8) and thereby fell 
into the mire of ideological inversion, de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray deploy 
the trope of female saints 12 and mystics to discuss the prior tradition of 

interpreting spiritual relatio nships in material terms. In so doing, as we will see, 

11 See especially Marx's critique of Stirner and the Young Hegelians in The German Ideology 
where Marx denounces the mystical "appearances" and "connections" manipulated by Stirner 
and the Hegelians as "tricks" (42). 

12 Or feminine saints for Lacan, including as he does St. John of the Cross. 

they also (seek to) evaporate the dialectic by introduction of a third term, be it 

representation (including utterance), body, or a sense of experience analogous to 


In terms combining the material and spiritual, Marx himself emphasized 
language in ideological/ Subject production as a representation that both 
indicated and itself comprised an experience: "from the start the 'spirif is afflicted 
with the curse of being 'burdened' with matter, which here makes its appearance 
in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language" (Arthur 50- 
51). Marx here describes the experience of consciousness (as a social 
construction), qua experience, through language. Language becomes a 
mediation between individuals concomitant to the mediation between the 
material and an experience irreducible to material rhetoric. 

As Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan describes (chez Medvedev and Bakhtin), 
"mysticism" results from the assumption that "lived realities can be expressed 
without formal mediation" (Diapsoric Mediations 70). For de Beauvoir, Lacan, 
and Irigaray, "formal mediation" comprises the heart of the matter o/mysticism, 
both in senses of how female mystics "know" (of) their experiences, as well as of 
the mystical experience itself as an attempt to bypass masculist (religious, 
philosophical, psychoanalytical) mediation of their self-knowledge and access to 

Yet even if disparate, these senses are not unrelated: as mediated 
expression, representation constitutes one of the elements that, along with 
subjectivity, experience, and knowledge, comprises the node called mystic as 
well as the experience named mysticism by Marx or mystification by Marxism. 
As Radhakrishnan subsequently clarifies, "Realities are always mediated, but 
what needs radical transformation is the mode of mediation" (70). As Thompson 
claims, "ideology does not float in some ethereal realm of ideas but is tied very 
closely to the medium of linguistic communication. Ideology pertains to that part 

of consciousness which can be said" (85). In The Dialect ic of Ideology and 

Technolog y. Alvin Gouldner proposes ideology as "a sociolect of an 'elaborated' 

sociolinguistic variant" (81). Or, as Thompson offers, "as a 'language variant 7 

which deviates from the common linguistic codes of everyday life" (85) — the 

very elements ascribed to both the "moaning" of the mystic (in the 

"inarticulable" moment of her puissance) and the grounds upon which, 

ideologically, her written or spoken utterances, like those of the subaltern, are 

either dismissed or reappropriated. 

(Mystical) Alienation 

Mediation of one's knowledge of one's experience by speech, articulation, 
representation, indicates and effects a particular kind of alienation: the 
"mystification" of which Marx wrote. Derived from Hegel — for whom, as 
George Novack explains, "a specific kind of alienation may be historically 
necessary at one stage, even though it is canceled out at the next in the universal 
play of the dialectic" (58) — and Feuerbach, alienation becomes bound with 
estrangement. Spivak elucidates the distinction between these terms: 
"Entfremdung (estrangement) and Entdusserung (alienation) generally carry 
separate charges in Marx — the first an ontological error perpetrated by 
philosophy in collaboration with political economy, the second an ontological 
necessity for the very predication of (the human) being and doing" (CPR 59 
n.74). George Novack clarifies the distinction: "Alienation is first of all a social 
expression of the fact that men lack adequate control over the forces of nature 
and have thereby not yet acquired control over sources of daily sustenance.[...] 
Alienation has been a general feature of human history. The alienation of labor, 
however, is peculiar to civilization and is bound up with the institution of private 
property" (66). 

Marx and Engels derive their sense of estrangement [Entfremdung] 13 from 

Feuerbach, and eventually d epart from it. Marx and Engels further problematize 
13 Pascal traces this term through The Holy Family and The German Ideology (202-03 n23). 

what they see as Feuerbach's increasing abstraction of the matter, which course 

they themselves follow vis-a-vis ideology in Capital . Yet the matter of language, 

articulation, expression of an experience, as mediation still remains. Jurgen 

Habermas denotes "ideology" in terms of "systematically distorted 

communication" (Eagleton 14). Ernest Mandel decries the failure of language in 

alienation as "the ultimate and most tragic form of alienation, which is alienation 

of the capacity to communicate" (26). Alienation of the capacity to communicate, 

but not of the capacity to speak: Spivak places these terms in tension in "Can the 

Subaltern Speak?" and her later responses to and elaborations on that article. 

As Ernest Mandel further claims, "the Marxist notion of alienation extends 
far beyond the oppressed classes of society, properly speaking. The oppressors 
are also alienated from part of their human capacity through their inability to 
communicate on a human basis with the majority of society [... Thereby, people] 
carry on what the French call dialogue de sourds, dialogues between deaf people, 
that is, dialogues between people who are incapable of understanding or 
listening to other people" (28-29). De Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray develop such 
an inability between parties to communicate into an epistemo-linguistic 
hegemony on the part of masculist language and phallic sexual economy, 
resulting in the alienation of the female mystic-as-subject. Writers such as Fanon 
and Spivak, as we will see, develop this "deafness" into a virulently one-sided 
affair, whereby the raced and sexuated subjects mired in the intersections of 
global phallocapital and local phallopolitics understand all too well their 
languages and articulate themselves around it, but nevertheless remain 
"unheard" within the same systems. 

Yet as we saw for ideology itself, alienation {Entasserung) as a concept 

remains open to reinscriptive exploitation. Mandel describes the kind of 

manipulation of "alienation" that Sloterdijk and Zizek would call "cynical": 

The alienation of labor, it is said [...] can be overcome without the 
necessity of overthrowing capitalism. It will be enough to give back to the 

workers a 'sense of participation/ or even a 'work ethic' [...] for the 
workers no longer to feel alienated. It will be necessary, say others, to 
insure the existence of means of communication, dialogue, and creation 
which give back to the worker his sense of personality and his freedom in 
work and leisure"; what such manipulations "try to abolish is not the 
reality of alienation but the workers' awareness of this reality. Their 
pseudo-disalienation would be alienation carried to an extreme, with the 
alienated worker alienated from awareness of his own condition as a 
mutilated human being. (SOI 9-50) 

As we will see, Lacan notes such pseudo-disalienation vis-a-vis the female 
mystic's knowledge of her own puissance within phallic sexual economies, and 
which Amy Hollywood decries in noting that most female mystics' later 
articulations of their experience were written at the insistence of, and 
appropriated by, their male priests to bolster a patriarchal religious structure that 
alienated women. 

Yet the female mystic also poses a figure of reaction and resistance to 
alienation. Don Cupitt insists in Mysticism After Modernity that "the great 
mystical writers are much more political than at first appears. For the mystic is a 
religious anarchist and Utopian, who speaks for an ancient tradition of protest 
against religious alienation. The mystic tries to undermine the law, and to create 
religious happiness by melting God down" (56). u As we will see, it is in this 
tradition that de Beauvoir invokes the female Euro-Christian mystic, but as an 
exemplar of active, masculine, existential "good faith"; Irigaray will project her as 
a subversive who deploys the "femininity" ascribed to her to circumvent phallic 
sexual economies. 

False Consciousness: Engels 

Vis-a-vis the "end of ideology," Engels' own later formulation of ideology 

as "false consciousness" remains equally problematic. As Eagleton discusses, 

Part of the opposition to the 'false consciousness' case stems from the 
accurate claim that, in order to be truly effective, ideologies must make at 
least some minimal sense of people's experience, must conform to some 
degree with what they know of social reality from their practical 

14 It is perhaps a sense of the "political" such as Cuppitf s here that Lacan has in mind vis-a- 
vis the writings of female mystics, as we will see later. 

interaction with it [...] They must be 'real' enough to provide the basis on 
which individuals can fashion a coherent identity, must furnish some solid 
motivations for effective action, and must make at least some feeble 
attempt to explain away their own more flagrant contradictions and 
incoherencies. (14-15) 

We have already seen how the perceived falsity of ideology fluctuates through 
the concept's history, whereas the sense of a relation, false or otherwise, 
between knowing and doing maintains, 15 even when knowing supersedes 
thinking. We will see the terms of this relation mutate, however, in Lacan (and 
Foucault) vis-a-vis the S/ subject created by language or discourse, which 
mutation also obtains for Fanon and Spivak. 

Yet as Thompson indicated earlier, the true/ false argument often 
supplants Marx and Engels' own emphasis on "the link between ideology and 
class domination" particularly since that is the service in which any sense of 
true/false would, cognizently or no, be deployed (Thompson 81). The emphasis 
would fall not on what counted as true or false, nor on who knows either to be 
the case, but on that knowledge itself and whose awareness of it. David Hawkes 
suggests that, post-Nietzsche, "it would seem that there is no consciousness 
which is not false, and that the notion of 'ideology' has thus become meaningless 
and obsolete" (160). Such a view, however, glosses over false 
consciousness' suggestion of "a social awareness mystified by ideology and 
ignorant of its own class basis" (Oxford Companion 56). As Thompson notes, 
"Marx and Engels tended to attribute ideology to the bourgeoisie alone, which 
seems inconsistent both with the realization that bourgeois ideas must have 
some factual content if they are to be efficacious, and with the recognition that 
the proletarian outlook is by no means free from distortion" (81). 

What Hawkes' supposition nonetheless implies, and what views such as 
those Eagleton glosses overlook, is Engels' framing of ideology as a knowledge, as 

15 Thus even by 1949, Robert Merton's essay "The Sociology of Knowledge," and its antecedent, 
Karl Mannheim's Essavs in the Sociology of Knowledg e (cf. Hall, 'The Hinterland of 
Science: Ideology and the 'Sociology of Knowledge' "). 

a way of knowing (one's "situation" or circumstances): 

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, 
indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him 
remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process 
at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. Because it is a process 
of thought he derives both its form and its content from pure thought, 
either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought 
material which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, 
he does not investigate further for a more remote process independent of 
thought; indeed its origin seems obvious to him, because as all action is 
produced through the medium of thought it also appears to him to be 
ultimately based upon thought. (Engels 511) 

Forty-seven years after The German Ideolog y and twenty-six years after Capital. 
Engels' 1893 letter to Franz Mehring proposes false consciousness as a thinking 
unaware of the mediations involved. Engels realizes too late, and admits, that he 
and Marx had attended the history of ideology at the expense of attending its 
processes. Capital states that subjects in such an economy "do not know it, but 
still they do it." They function, alienated from not only the fruits of their labor 
(and therefore from each other and themselves) but also from their own class 
awareness. They remain equally alienated from a particular knowledge of what 
they do. I aver that they still know what they do, but experience a different kind 
of knowing — what Althusser calls "interpellation" or what Gramsci calls 
"hegemony." These phenomena themselves comprise a kind of experience as 
well as a kind of knowing. 

Engels' formulation of false consciousness proposes that workers have a 
knowledge of what they do, but that it is a false knowledge or consciousness. 
Both describe what Althusser formulates as "the representation of the subject's 
Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence" (Althusser 162-63 
emphasis mine), 16 a signifier for an internalized experience of an external 

experience or set of circumstances. The actual imagined relation cannot itself be 

16 Jameson and Zizek each also focus on the "Imaginary" and "Real" components cited in this 
redefinition (Jameson insisting on their Lacanian influence, despite Elisabeth Roudinseco's 
claim that Lacan influenced Althusser much less than vice versa) in Postmodernism, or. The 
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism and "Imaginary and Symbolic in Lacan" in Ideologies of 
Theory. Volume 1 : and The Sublime Object of Ideolog y and Looking Awry, respectively. 

seen or known, but only articulated by way of representation. As we will see, 

Lacan invokes such a sense of knowledge when he posits that the female mystic, 

because of phallic sexuality's determination of her knowledge and the reception 

of her utterances, knows that she experiences something but not what it is she 


Reif i cation: Lukacs 

Working, in part, from Engels' proposal, Georg Lukacs also posits 
ideology as false consciousness which nevertheless maintains a "rationality and 
subjective validity for the actors concerned," but insists on an "objective 
difference between the false consciousness of the actors concerned and the 
society they claim to understand" (Donough 36). End-of-ideology arguments 
indicate this discrepancy between the ideologies of individuals and of their 
supposed society itself as one of the argument's weaknesses, since "it would 
sometimes appear as though each social class has its own peculiar, corporate 
'world- view*, one directly expressive of its material conditions of existence; and 
ideological dominance then consists in one of these world- views imposing its 
stamp on the sociological formation as a whole" (Eagleton 186) — another 
version of the "ideology is everywhere and therefore nowhere" argument. 

Such arguments themselves nevertheless overlook what McDonough 
reads in Lukacs as the bourgeoisie remaining blind to the very contradictions 
that comprise the ideologies that maintain its place, the realization of which 
"would mean self-annihilation" (McDonough 38). Since for Lukacs there are only 
two "true classes" — the proletariat and bourgeoisie, for the former of which 
class consciousness is necessary to eradicate class as such — the "intermediary 
classes" of the peasantry and petite-bourgeoisie are, in McDonough' s words, 
"consigned to ideological confusion and silence" (Mc Donough 40; Lukacs 61). 
McDonough posits Lukacs' formulation of ideology, then, as "an organic 
expression of the ideas of particular class-subjects and not as an objective 

systematized representation of social relations embodied in real material 

institutions and practices" (41). Only the proletariat can achieve the class (self- 

)consciousness necessary to eradicate capitalism by eliminating its own position. 

McDonough notes that for Lukacs "[s]uch 'intermediary' or transitional classes 

like the peasantry or the petit-bourgeoisie are doomed to ideological 

incoherence; from their position, the entire society can neither be understood 

nor organized" (37), much like the "subaltern" as formulated by Gramsci, the 

Subaltern Studies Group, and Spivak. 

Yet as Hawkes indicates, false consciousness effects a particular purview 
for Lukacs, that of "reification"(110-ll) which for Lukacs comprises "the 
necessary, immediate reality of every person living in a capitalist society" 
(Lukacs 197). Hawkes reminds us that " History and Class Consciousness bases 
its entire theory on the first chapter of Capital [which] seems a rather surprising 
claim because [. . . ] Capital' s first chapter is concerned with the fetishism of the 
commodity — that is to say, with an ideological, rather than a material problem" 
(109-10). Working from Marx's early formulations of reification in Capital. 
Lukacs reworks the concept as "the tendency to fetishize our own activity, when 
that tendency has grown into a universal and determining influence over every 
aspect of our lives" (Hawkes 111). This "thingification" has, as it does in Marx, its 
"religious" derivations, since "[j]ust as for Hegel, Spirit alienates itself in the 
material world, so in Lukacs the human subject objectifies its own 
activity" (Hawkes 112). 

In Lukacs, the class-realization that evaporates class effects a move from 
knowledge to action which disrupts ideology (Lukacs 71). While problematically 
maintaining Marx's dyad (not-know/do), Lukacs establishes the necessity of 
"knowledge" for "action" to undo the situation dictated by that same dyad. 
What this knowledge comprises and whose it is remains crucial; the relation 
between knowing and doing remains. 

Representation: Althusser 

Chronologically, one would discuss the contribution of Antonio Gramsci 

here; I reserve my discussion of Gramsci, however, until my analysis of Spivak's 

figuration of the "subaltern as female", since she derives her conceptualisation of 

the subaltern from Gramsci's work. For the moment, I turn instead to 

developments in the theorization of "ideology" by Louis Althusser (who was 

nonetheless, as Stuart Hall indicates, influenced by Gramsci's writings 17 ) not only 

for the intersecting of Althusser's conceptualisations with Lacan's, but also for his 

discussion's relation to those posed by Sartrean existentialism. As Kalpana 

Seshadri-Crooks explains, 

Within the general framework of his attack on the humanist Hegelian 
tradition of Western Marxism, Althusser's specific objection to Sartre's 
attempt to mediate Marxism with existential subjectivity was that such a 
move went against the crucial discoveries which had founded Marxism in 
the first place; in an extension of Levi-Strauss' argument, he maintained 
that the notion of 'man' that Sartre used was derived from a particular 
ideological definition of the human subject which represses Marx's insight 
that the human subject is not the centre of history, together with Freud's 
that the subject is not centred in consciousness. (Seshadri-Crooks 53) 

As we have already seen, Althusser's formulation of ideology includes many 
mediations that prior conceptualisations had overlooked or had (even as early as 
Engels' letter to Mehring) been insufficiently considered — elements that bear 
directly on figurations of the female mystic and subaltern. 

Of course, Althusser's formulations run afoul of end-of-ideology 
arguments. We find a precursor of these in Gramsci, who notes that Marx had 
prefigured Althusser thesis whereby "a popular conviction [i.e. ideology] often 
has the same energy as a material force or something of the kind" (Gramsci 377). 
Gramsci notes the error in considering material forces as content and ideology as 
form, and insists instead that "this distinction between form and content has 
purely didactic value, since the material forces would be inconceivable 
hitsorically without form and the ideologies would be individual fancies without 
17 In Politics and Ideolog y, xvii. 

the material forces" (Gramsci 377) Mas'ud Zavarzadeh claims that "the concept 

of ideology, after Althusser, is completely depoliticized. It becomes an 

innocuously descriptive form; something like this: 'ideology is not a system of 

true or false beliefs and values, a doctrine, so much as it is the means by which 

culture represents beliefs and values'" (300). Zavarzadeh continues that such a 

view shifts emphasis "from 'why' ideology does what it does to 'how' it does it: a 

shift from the political to the rhetorical, from the explanatory to the 

descriptive" (300) — despite the fact that such an approach is what Engels 

confessed he found regrettably lacking in his and Marx's work on ideology. 18 

Eagleton insists that "Althusser's theory of ideology involves at least two 

crucial misreadings of the psychoanalytical writings of Jacques Lacan — not 

surprisingly, given the sibylline obscuritanism of the latter" (144). In terms of 

reading, following Eagleton's own statement, how could "sibylline" works, qua 

"obscure" or mystical, mystifying, ever not be "misread"? Eagleton himself here 

seems to overlook this very question in Lacan, the question pursued by Irigaray 

as the possibility for subversion of masculist linguistic systems of /in 

phallocapital. As Ernesto Laclau posits, for Althusser "what constitutes the 

unifying principle of an ideological discourse is the 'subject 7 interpellated and 

thus constituted through this discourse" ("Class Interpellations" 27-28). 19 Lacan 

and Althusser's respective formulations of the Subject, whether lingu-sexual or 

lingui-ideological, remain analogous: the linguistic Subject and the ideological 

Subject; the latter formulation denotes a Subject convinced as such by the 

meconaissance through which interpellation operates, the mystificatory 

'overlooking' or ignorance of which, as discussed above, is essential to the 

18 In the famous letter to Franz Mehring of 14 July, 1893 — the only instance of the phrase "false 
consciousness" attributable to Engels. 

" Laclau proceeds to update Althusser by averring that "the unity of the distinct aspects of an 
ideological system is given by the specific interpellation which forms the axis and organizing 
principle of all ideology" (27) — i.e. "class" is only constituted as such according to its 
ideologies, comprising a unifying effect that often belies the discontinuities of the discrete 
"interpellative elements"(28) that went into it. 


In (Zizek's reading of) Marx's terms, subjects within a capitalist production 
system operate without awareness of the actual (over)determinants of their actions. 
In Engels' terms, they operate out of a false consciousness, the unevalnated 
assumption that what they do is right, natural; Sartre refigures Engels' 
formulation as bad faith or misrepresenting one's true motivations and 
knowledge to oneself and others. Althusser posits a mediation of these 
definitions through the locus of representation (derived also from Marx): in 
Althusser' s famous statement, ideology comprises "the representation of the 
subject's Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence," a way 
of knowing or of creating a knowledge of one's lived experience (Althusser 162- 
163 italics mine). Ideology thus denotes not the relationship itself, but a 
representation o/that relationship. Althusser proposes a "Real conditions of 
existence" anterior to ways of thinking about or representing them 20 . 

Althusser thereby establishes the dialectic of imaginary and real, 
recapitulating the classical true/ false dichotomy, yet with representation as a 
simultaneously disrupting and mediating third term. Ideology would thereby 
only represent that Imaginary relationship, always at a remove, always 
mediated by experience and knowledge. Or, as Althusser rephrases himself a 
few pages later, "[t]he essential point is that on condition that we interpret the 
imaginary transposition (and inversion) of ideology we arrive at the conclusion 
that in ideology 'men represent their real conditions of existence to themselves in 
an imaginary form' " (163). 

Eagleton proposes that "Althusser tries to shift us [. . . ] from a cognitive to 
an affective theory of ideology" (Eagleton 19), from a theory of knowing to one of 
experience. Even if, as Jameson suggests, such categories in Althusser reiterate the 
science/ ideology dichotomy as scientific knowledge and existential experience 

20 Which statement also implies other possible "relationships" to those conditions than 
"Imaginary" ones. 

(Postmodernism 53). "ideologies" for Althusser, as Eagleton further posits, "do 

contain a kind of knowledge; but they are not primarily cognitive, and the 

knowledge in question is less theoretical [. . .] than pragmatic" (21-22). This logic 

recapitulates the speculative /pragmatic dichotomy of the literary trope of the 

mystic. As Eagleton posited before, "[t]hat I am experiencing something can't be 

doubted, any more than I can doubt that I am in pain; but what precisely my 

'lived relations' to the social order consist in may be a more problematical affair 

than the Althusserians sometimes seem to think" (20). This latter point is taken 

up in various manners by my selected writers, interested as they are in not only 

the lived relations of the female figurations they posit, but also in the mediations 

effected therein by representation as knowledge, as well as experience as 


Enjoyment: Zizek 

As I indicated earlier, in his discussion of ideology and ideological 

mystification, Slavoj Zizek turns to the latter, more abstract formulations of 

Capital . While Marx's abstraction allows for broader application of the concept, 

his abstraction beyond the very term itself nevertheless, as I have also indicated, 

overlooked the modes of ideology. That is, it overlooks the element of 

representation. Hence Zizek's Lacanian approach that hedges the linguistic Subject 

against the ideological Subject. As Judith Butler states, "Crucial to Zizek's effort 

to work the Althusserian theory through Lacan is the psychoanalytic insight that 

any effort of discursive interpellation or constitution is subject to failure, haunted 

by contingency, to the extent that discourse itself invariably fails to totalize the 

social field" (Bodies That Matter 191-92). The "failures" that Zizek supposes 

appear analogous to those upon which Irigaray's formulation of not only the 

female mystic's but "woman" -as-commodity's subversive potentiality depends. 

4 77 

Zizek's borrowing of Lacan, apart from maintaining discussion of 

"ideology" in terms of language, 21 of representation, also places it in terms of 

puissance. Eagleton indicates that "[b]eyond the field of ideological signification, 

as Zizek points out, there is always a kind of non-signifying 'surplus' which is 

enjoyment or puissance; and this enjoyment is the last 'supporf of ideological 

meaning" since "one important hold that [ideology] has over us is its capacity to 

yield enjoyment" (Eagleton 184 alteration mine). Irigaray and Spivak both make 

use of this Lacanian element of jouissance-as-excess, particularly in response to 

Lacan's insistence that in phallocratic terms of use- value, 22 puissance "is what 

serves no purpose" (Fink 3). 

As I will point out later, Zizek's insistence that the process of 
"interpellation" that Althusser describes never completely obtains because 
puissance, as excess, 23 as a "non-integrated surplus of senseless traumatism which 
[already] confers on the Law its unconditional authority [and] sustains what we 
might call the ideological puis-sense, enjoyment-in-sense (enjoy-meant), proper 
to ideology" (43-44 alteration mine) also indicates the ways in which puissance 
and /as the representation of an/ its experience becomes appropriated by 
phallocapital. It simultaneously and ironically offers a subversive mode around 
phallocapital's discourses. 


This excessive element of puissance, explored in Chapter 1 and reiterated 
here through Zizek, returns us to Obejas' story. The sexual encounter with the 

21 John. B. Thompson briefly surveys views of language's place in "ideology" as a social 
phenomenon chez Wittgenstein, Austin, and Habermas (6-9, 255-302). 

22 1 maintain that most (early) commentators on Irigaray, as well as on Lacan himself, overlook 
this element in Lacan's seminars: that he discusses what seems already to be the case, to be set 
in place, given the predication of phallic sexual economies tout court. 

23 Zizek's phrasing seems to draw on Lacan's "definition" of puissance in his lecture "On 
Jouissance": "What is jouissance? Here it amounts to no more than a negative instance 
(instance). Jouissance is what serves no purpose" (Fink 3). Lacan discusses jouissance in terms of 
its use-value in phallic economies. See also Fink's note on Lacan's sense of instance (Freudian 
lnstanz) as "agency" and "authority" (Fink 3 n9). 

Cuban exile writer which began this discussion indicates a specific negotiation 

with the various ideologies surrounding the narrator that seek to redefine and 

refigure her knowledge of her experience for her. In the specific ethnicity which 

the narrator highlights in her lover's ecstatic moan the narrator assigns an 

otherwise intangible quality to the experience of her own puissance and that of 

her lover. 

The narrator indicates numerous dovetailed events that do not subscribe 
to or fit the official, U.S.-sanctioned knowledges of militarism, anti-communism, 
consumerism, and homophobia. She notes the same Thanksgiving visit during 
which her father kicks her as "the first time in months [she will] be without an 
antiwar demonstration to go to , a consciousness-raising group to attend, or a 
Gay Liberation meeting to lead" (121). Each of these activities points to a 
resistance to accepted, prescribed knowledge, to scripts designated for the 
figured norm of patriotic, heterosexually-reproductive women of the U.S. (as 
well as its soldiers battling to secure foreign markets and encourage domestic 

Unlike nationalisms Cuban or American, lesbianism hardly constitutes an 
issue within the microcosm of her family. Her father dreams for her a future of 
financial and public success as a lawyer, without the rubrics of heterosexual re- 
production, marriage, or domesticity — not out of a feminist ethics, but rather 
"because to do so would be to imagine someone else closer to me than he is, and 
he cannot endure that" (117). Her mother envisions for her a married 
heterosexual domesticity, including an undocumented Haitian maid (117). Her 
mother's self-positioning as acquiescent peacemaker between father and 
daughter, however, effectively negates her influence, and evaporates the issue of 
the narrator's lesbianism within her family. 

Her lesbianism becomes an issue, however, as it intersects macrocosmic 
U.S. nationalist ideologies. As evinced by her leading Gay Liberation meetings at 

Indiana University, heteronormativity is one of the sanctioned knowledges with 

which the narrator's experience does not correspond (121). Her protests 

represent an imaginary relationship to her real conditions of existence that does 

not coincide with official representations offered to her. In terms of the facile 

psychoanalytically-derived heteronormativity of the U.S., the narrartor's 

sexuality is excessive, hysterical, and becomes a nationalist issue, an ideological 

matter. Her sexual encounter with her exile Cuban lover effects a mediation of 

nationalist ideology at an intimate level. 

Yet the narrator's sexuality comprises a no less nationalist matter for 

herself. In a word, it is not so much her lesbianism, nor the sex she engages in, 

but rather the Cubanism in the sex, and the sex in the Cubanism. The narrator 

specifically highlights the ethno-national elements at play in the encounter: 

The boy from the military academy will say oh baby baby as he 
grinds his hips into me. And Martha and all the girls before and after her 
here in the United States will say ooohhh ooooohhhhh 
oooooooohhhhhhhh as my fingers explore inside them. 

But the first time I make love with a Cuban, a politically 
controversial exile writer of some repute, she will say, 
Aaaaaayyyyyyaaaaaayyyyaaaaay and lift me by my hair from between her 
legs, strings of saliva like sea foam between my mouth and her shiny 
curls. Then she'll drop me onto her mouth where our tongues will poke 
each other like wily porpoises. (126) 

She describes the sex with the Cuban woman in greater detail than that with the 
anglos; the sex is more involved, more acrobatic, more intense. The narrator 
frames her lover's moan within a specific ethnicity, following the unitalicized and 
uncapitalized representations of her other lovers' moans. Even "wily porpoises" 
constitutes a spetifrcally-ethnicized image 24 that distinguishes this sexual 
encounter and its respective intangibles from those with her anglo lovers. These 
elements coalesce into her post-sex ruminations on the political implications of 
the ecstasy they both have just experienced. 

2< Recall the importance of porpoises and dolphins in the mythology that later surrounded 
Elian Gonzalez. 

The scene, and the sexual encounter it represents, derive their energy 

from its clash of ideologies. The lover herself becomes an amalgamation of the 

narrator's and other's desires: Cuban, politically controversial, exile, writer, of 

repute, lesbian. Each of these elements simultaneously derives from and exceeds 

the ideologies of her father, Castro, and the U.S. Her representation of her 

lover's moan works her lover's puissance through a particular knowledge, 

marking the experience as one that, because it intersects the sexual and national 

politics that have pervaded the narrator's life, remains ambiguous and exceeds 

any bounds which would seek to fix the experience to any one meaning or 


This scene apears between that of an argument with her father who 
refuses to relinquish the young narrator's passport, and that of her father's 
funeral. Within the sexual encounter, the narrator experiencecs a "Cuba" that 
exceeds even those other Cubas presented to her (the evil communist realm her 
family fled, to be later reclaimed; Castro's paradise to be protected from post- 
Bay of Pigs U.S. intervention). The Cuba she experiences falls beyond those 
Cubas and the epistemological limits they describe. Her lover's moan and the 
narrator's own framing of it, the narrative she generates around it, figure an 
intangible yet irreducible "Cuba" that derives from all but subscribes to none of 
those epistemologies. By reworking the excess "things that can't be told," the 
Cuban lover's moan and the narrative woven around it are "never not political" 
in a sense that exceeds even Lacan's formulation for mystical puissance. 

But the sexual puissance by which the narrator formulates that 
knowledge — by which she figures an excess-Cuba that is neither her father's, nor 
America's, nor Castro's, but that reacts to the epistemic field generated by all 
three — is not her awn puissance. It is her Cuban lover who emits the moan that 
registers an otherwise unrepresentable, but not unknowable, experience that the 
narrator then textually represents, and figures into a narrative. She uses her 

lover's puissant moment to formulate a knowledge. Indeed, her lover's moan 

inaugurates a series of speculations that further exceed her present situation's 


The narrator represents her lover's sexual puissance, but not her own. 
Rather, the narrator represents, through a careful manipulation and 
accumulation of detail, the knowledge she constructs out of and around her 
lover's moan. The scene works by representational compression. Earlier in the 
text, the narrator describes in greater detail each of the prior lovers recalled in 
the scene. She specifies that "[f]or all the blond-haired boyfriends I will have, 
there will be only two yellow-haired lovers" (115). The detail of yellow hair 
echoes that of a doll she receives at the INS station following her family's rescue 
off the south coast of Florida. The doll is itself one of three further compressed 
elements that represent U.S. nationalist ideology to the narrator: "oatmeal 
cookies, a plastic doll with blond hair and a blue dress, and a rosary of white 
plastic beads" (114). Handed these rustically homey treats, the likeness of ethnic 
purity and domesticated heterosexual reproduction, and Christian religiosity 25 of 
the U.S., she receives also their ideological implications. Yet she receives them 
ambivalently: through her life, she carries the doll with her wherever she moves, 
but never plays with it (115). 

Immediately following this section the narrator describes her early lovers, 
specifying their yellow hair. One, a boy who "doesn't really count," is "in a 
military academy [and] subscribes to Republican politics like [her] parents" (115). 
His attempt to initiate sexual intercourse with her on a south Florida beach is as 
clumsy and unsuccessful as U.S. attempts to penetrate her ideologically (or Cuba 
during the Bay of Pigs). The other lover, Martha, acknowledged as a lesbian 
gold-digger, epitomizes U.S. attachment to money, stability, and a degree of 
social convention. 

25 Albeit Catholic — JFK is in office at the time and the Cuban family is presumed Catholic by 
the Catholic relief worker at the INS office in Miami. 


By distancing this section from the latter scene with her Cuban lover, and 
reducing her lovers prior to the Cuban exile writer to simply "[t]he boy from the 
military academy" and "Martha and all the girls before and after her here in the 
United States" (126), the narrator permits the compression of the focal scene and 
hyperfocuses her Cuban lover's ethnicity. Despite the narrator's representation 
of her Cuban lover's ecstacy at the apparent expense of representing her own, 
the narrator nevertheless carefully directs her representation of the event to 
highlight the ideological interference-field that charges the scene. Her lesbianism 
is involved by way of the failure of the previous blond male military Republican 
lover whose ideology she will later protest against in college. By the same 
gesture, the ethnicity and nationality of her Cuban lover become elements in the 
interference-field she develops. The detail that the narrator expends on sex with 
the Cuban exceeds that she spends on her earlier account of Martha, which 
includes only the action of evading the rich lover on whom Martha financially 
depends. This expenditure of discourse-time 26 on sex with the Cuban lover again 
contributes to the mediating effect of the narrator's knowledge of her 

In this scenario the narrator's tactic of setting multiple ideologies against 

each other across the field of her sexual encounter with this particular 

partner — who herself in this narrative becomes almost a trope — invokes an odd 

relation to ideology as the disjuncture between knowledge and experience. She 

plays a sense of ideology invoked by Gramsci: "the meaning which the term 

'ideology' has assumed in Marxist philosophy implicitly contains a negative value 

judgment and excludes the possibility that for its founders the origin of ideas 

should be sought for in sensations, and therefore, in the last analysis, in 

physiology" (376 ). Rather than ideology arising from physical sensation, in 

Obejas' story ideology becomes part of what heightens the experience of 

physical sensation. In deliberately opposing her experience with this partner to 
26 1 invoke "discourse time" from Umberto Eco's Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (56). 

those with her previous partners, the narrator focuses the interference field 

created by her simultaneous opposition of ideological discourses through her 

sexual encounter. 

The encounter tosses the narrator into a series of ambivalent "what if" 

speculations: "I will wonder how this could have happened, and if it would have 

happened if we'd stayed in Cuba. And if so, would it have been furtive or free, 

with or without the revolution" (126). These musings echo those about her 

family, inspired by her father's nationalist-patriotic rants: "What if we'd stayed? 

What if we'd never left Cuba? What if we were there when the last of the 

counterrevolution [with whom her father continually, idealistically, counted 

himself] was beaten, or when Mariel harbor leaked thousands of Cubans out of 

the island, or when the Pan-American Games came? What if we'd never 

left?" (124). Her response to her lover's ecstatic moan is bound up with ideologies 

and reactions against them, and comprises an experience itself that 

simultaneously constitutes its own knowledge. 




Truth is ambiguity, abyss, mystery 

— Simone de Beauvoir 

So it was obvious that I had a secret. I was interrogated; turning away 
with an air of mystery, I murmured 1 

— Frantz Fanon 

Both Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon posit figures of subjectivity 
through language: the mystic and the colonized come to know themselves as 
they are represented and representable through dominant systems of language. 
De Beauvoir and Fanon also illustrate that, nevertheless, there are experiences by 
those subjects that indicate a knowledge outside those linguistic and 
epistemological rubrics, that because of those rubrics can only be known by and 
within themselves. Such experiences and knowledges exceed the limits set by 
those rubrics, and themselves constitute an experience of the disjuncture between 
experience and official knowledge, rather than the disjuncture itself. 

But how might Fanon and de Beauvoir indicate, theorize and develop 
puissance's place as a mediation of these terms, as mediation of mediation? How 
does each address representation? Given the mutual influences of existentialism, 
psychoanalysis, and Marxism on both Fanon and de Beauvoir, the matter 
becomes a dual one of subjects' representation by dominant epistemologies, and 

1 «Or, c'etait Evident, je poss^dais un secret. On m'interrogea; me deioumant d'un air mysterieux, 
je murmurai[.]» 


of subjects' self-representation to themselves and others. 2 By further developing 

the existential concept of bad faith, de Beauvoir and Fanon describe subjects' 

own narrativLzation, how sexed and raced subjects represent themselves as 

either narratives of dominant systems or in terms of themselves. This element of 

representation provides the field of puissant excess for Fanon and de Beauvoir. 

Each posits experiences that exceed the epistemological and linguistic rubrics 

available to the subjects who undergo those experiences, that mark the 

ideological boundary that otherwise indicates the contradiction between those 

subjects' experience of their lives and the knowledges provided for them by 

patriarchy, racism, capital. 

Framing de Beauvoir and Fanon's work in The Second Sex and Black Skin. 

White Masks along these lines allows me to tease out the logics we saw in play in 

Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, as well as the levels of ideology at work 

in Obejas' "We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?". In 

discussing these elements, though, we will also see the processes of figuration at 

work in both de Beauvoir and Fanon's own texts. Both writers effect their 

discussions through the process of figuration to resist, by excess, the very 

ideologies that their writing addresses. Through Fanon's development of the 

figure of the colonized and de Beauvoir' s of the female mystic, we begin to 

2 In "Beauvoir and the Algerian War: Toward a Postcolonial Ethics," Julien Murphy grapples 
with the issues of representation around de Beauvoir and Gisele Halimi's 1962 text Djamila 
Boupacha: The Story of the Torture of a Young Al gerian Girl Which Shocked Liberal French 
Opinion to intervene in traditional discourses on women and representation in de Beauvoir's 
corpus. Murphy notes that "[de Beauvoir and Halimi's] representations are all we have of 
Boupacha, since she has not published any account of her own" (286). This situation presages 
that between Spivak and Bhaduri that I discuss in Chapter 5. De Beauvoir and Halimi's 
textual representations of Boupacha, Murphy insists, "appeal to moral claims, emotions, 
politics, and the assumed psychological disposition of the reader" (286). Murphy argues that 
this book contains some of de Beauvoir's most complex dealings with the issue of representation. 
Not only did de Beauvoir and Halimi need to represent an Algerian woman to the minds of 
French readers steeped in Orientalist notions of Muslim women, but they both also had to 
negotiate their own self-representation through this textual protest of the Algerian War and 
reproach of French government and culture. Murphy briefly discusses Fanon's critiques of French 
self-representation, particularly Sartre's, while claiming that to hold the same against de 
Beauvoir is to underestimate the extent and depth de Beauvoir's emotional and moral 
investment in not only Boupacha as an individual, but also the responsibilities of greater 
humanity as a collectivity of singularities that Boupacha's case highlighted. 


attend the work of representation itself within discourses on representation, and 
the development of ideas about the interrelation of the soi-disant material and 

The "beyond" that the later Lacan invokes in his formulation of a 
puissance "beyond the phallus" responds to that invoked through de Beauvoir's 
statement early in The Second Sex that "no woman can claim, without bad faith, 
to situate herself beyond her sex" (S_£ xx). 3 Within three years, Frantz Fanon will 
describe the distinct but analogous situation of colonized raced beings in Black 
Skins. White Masks : "for the black man, there is only one destiny. And it is 
white"(10) 4 . Since "bad faith" constitutes an existential permutation of the 
concept of ideology, both writers thereby formulate subjectivity as a response to 
ideology. While bad faith remains not only a general existentialist category, but 
also one universally associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, 5 1 do not imply that either 
de Beauvoir or Fanon is purely derivative of Sartre. It is nevertheless necessary 
to explain the concept of bad faith as a particular understanding of both Marx's 
general discourse on ideology and Engels' specific framing of ideology as false 
consciousness, to frame Fanon and de Beauvoir's deployment of the concept. 

A Pause for Sartre 

Like Engels' formulation of false consciousness, Sartre formulates "bad 
faith" as a kind of knowledge, or a knowing. Despite this, the arguments against 
invoking "bad faith" are as numerous as those of the end-of-ideology we 

3 My translation of «n est claire qu'aucune femme ne peut pr6tendre sans mauvaise foi se siruer 
par-dela son sexe» (DS 1 13). Parshley's English translation omits this line. This instance is one 
of many faults in the Parshley translation of Le deuxieme sexe which remain to be rectified in 
English. Parshley also misses several of de Beauvoir's overt, as well as implicit, Unkings 
between mystification, the mystic, puissance, and woman. I discuss the implicit comment on 
sexuation in de Beauvoir's statement in the next chapter. 

4 «[P]our le Noir, il n'y a qu'un destin. Et il est blanc» (PN.MB 28) 

5 I discuss Sartre's influence on de Beauvoir and Fanon only insofar as it relates to my 
immediate project. A survey of Sartre's influence on emerging Postcolonial discourses ranges 
beyond the scope and provenance of my present project; the writers I cite have already 
archived such influences in their works. 

encountered in Chapter 2. As Ronald Santoni notes, "though they bring 

diverging interests and assumptions to Sartre's analysis, continental and analytic 

philosophers, psychologists and psychiatrists, and scholars of literature and 

sociology have all raised questions about the very possibility of bad faith and the 

possibility of overcoming it" (xvi). Sartre himself remained ambivalent toward 

the concept, noting with each discussion its contradictions and ambiguities (Being 

and Nothingness 50). 6 Nevertheless, the "positive reality" of bad faith informs de 

Beauvoir's formulation of the female mystic as well as Lacan and Irigaray's 

responses to her. 

For Sartre as much as for earlier commentators, ideology constitutes a 
matter of a relation to (a) truth. Bad faith comprises a "lie to oneself" wherein a 
consciousness turns its negations inward toward itself (BN 48). Sartre 
distinguishes between this "lie to oneself" and lying or falsehood "in general" 
(BN 48-49), however, since "bad faith" implies to hide "truth" from or 
misrepresent it to oneself (Santoni 29). This relation remains the central problem of 
bad faith for Sartre himself as well as his general detractors 7 and end-of-ideology 
proponents in specific. Sartre's insistence on the deliberacy of bad faith posits it as 
a simultaneous but contradictory knowing and doing: subjects remain always 
"in possession of the truth which [they are] hiding" and therefore "[do] not lie 
about what [they are] in ignorance of" (BN 48). 

Sartre posits individual subjects as coerced by society to perform a 
particular or particularly scripted subjectivity. What subjects become by so doing 
is a (mis)representation: "[i]t is a 'representation' for others and for myself, 
which means that I can be he [that particular someone] only in representation" (BN 

60). Subjects acting in bad faith misrepresent their truth (of themselves) by 

6 Hereafter cited as BN: citations of material in the French L'gtre et le n£ante will be cited as 


7 Jacques Derrida comprising perhaps the most vocal and prolific of these; see his "History of 
the Lie" in Without Alibi, which exhaustively questions the existential notion of lying "to 

performing the attributes and actions they themselves anticipate that others 

expect from whatever socio-sexual position either party occupies. Subjects so 

perform as much for themselves, having already internalized those anticipations, 

and reinforce them in the performance. 8 

Sartre predicates such a lying, such a misrepresenting, on the 
consciousness' presumed translucence to itself. Such a consciousness must 
already be aware of, must already know of, what it hides from or misrepresents 
to itself and others, in order to hide or ignore it. Between (chronologically, at 
least) a Marxian "doing but knowing not what it does" and a Lacanian not 
knowing what it experiences but that it experiences something, Sartre posits a 
subject doing while deliberately misrepresenting to itself what it does or that it 
does, and who must already know that it does. For Sartre and de Beauvoir, the 
subject in bad faith knows of her truth but remains, problematically, ignorant of 
the fact that she misrepresents it to herself. 

Yet for Sartre as for Marx, Engels, and Lukacs, ideology entails a 
culminating reification, 9 or "thingification." For Sartre, the thing to which a 
subject reduces herself (since bad faith primarily enacts one's misrepresentation 
to/by oneself) is that programmed and anticipated representation of a particular 
someone whom the same subject "is not." Curiously, after asking specifically 
"what must be the being of man if he is to be capable of bad faith" (BN 54 
emphasis mine), Sartre first illustrates this principle by figuring a young woman, a 
coquette, who deliberately plays that role to both herself and to men because she 
believes she is supposed to, despite her true (and of course, for Sartre, 
contradictory) inclinations. Sartre constructs a coquette who perpetrates 

simultaneous and contradic tory misrepresentations: to herself and her male 

8 This line of thought leads, certainly, in the direction of Irigaray, Judith Butler, and Homi 
Bhabha's famous analyses of performance — through Lacan's discussions of the gaze — which 
others have documented and discussed at length. 

9 Despite Sartre's own insistence that "Proponents of [psychoanalysis] have hy postatized and 
'reified' bad faith; they have not escaped it" — apparently for Sartre there are reifications and 
there are reifications (BN 54). 

suitor, of his actual intentions and motives, and of her own anticipated responses 

despite her true feelings toward him and his sexual advances (BN 55-56). 10 Sartre 

imagines such a subject deliberately misrepresenting to herself her lover's 

sincerity (despite her actual knowledge otherwise) by the same fiat of her 

misrepresenting to herself her own wishes. 

At one point, Sartre has his coquette allow her suitor to take her hand. 
Despite her awareness, however slight, of her own misrepresentations, she does 
not withdraw her hand since to do so would "break the troubled and unstable 
harmony that gives the hour its charm. The aim is to postpone the moment of 
decision as long as possible" (BN 55). Sartre supposes that "[w]e know what 
happens next; the young woman leaves her hand there, but she does not notice 
that she is leaving it" 11 (BN 56). Rather, "during this time the divorce of the body 
from the soul is accomplished; the hand rests inert between the warm hands of 
her companion — neither consenting nor resisting — a thing" (BN 56). Sartre 
indicates that by so doing, the coquette reduces not only her hand, but herself and 
her suitor to things, in that her misrepresentations foreclose both her own and 
her suitor's realization of their true potential as pour-soi subjects. 

I draw out Sartre's illustration here for two reasons. First, to elaborate his 
reading of bad faith and its mystifications that lead to a general, universal 
alienation. Second, to foreground Sartre's own use of figuration to illustrate a 
phenomenon, presented as universal, through a narrative of a (figured) 
woman's own deliberate sexual misrepresentations — but without any attention 
by Sartre to her status in that situation as woman, as coquette. Neither have we 
any exploration or critique of such a figure's supposed impulse to "postpone the 
moment of decision as long as possible" in order to sustain the "charm" of the 

situation's implied sexual vi olence. 

10 Hazel Barnes notes that Sartre also implicates male bad faith as an element in female 
oppression (22-45). See also Tina Chanter's discussion vis-a-vis de Beauvoir's approach to 
"womanhood" (14). 

11 «[L]a jeunne fille abandonne sa main, mais ne s'apergoit pas qu'elle l'abandonne» (EN 91). 

The contradiction effected by bad faith echoes one predicated by Sartre, 

that between a subject's "facticity" and "transcendence": "bad faith seeks to 

affirm their identity while preserving their differences" (B_N_ 56). n Existential bad 

faith as an argument also pits faith against an existential certitude, recapitulating 

the ideology/ science argument of Marx, Engels, and early writers on ideology 

(BN 68). For Sartre, ideology itself eventually becomes a kind of knowledge of or 

about (one's) faith. This knowledge translates into a particular kind of doing. As 

Ronald Santoni suggests, "from its very inception, bad faith is aware of its 

structures and attempts to exploit the mercurial 'nature' of consciousness and 

faith by setting up weak requirements for the acceptance of non-persuasive 

evidence" (39). As Sartre puts it, "[t]he true problem of bad faith stems evidently 

from the fact that bad faith is a faith" (BN 67); "[t]o believe is to know that one 

believes, and to know that one believes is no longer to believe" (BN 69). 

"Twilights of Bad Faith:" The Second Sex 

As I stated earlier, I do not read either de Beauvoir or Fanon's work on 

the subject of bad faith as derivative of Sartre. While historians, theorists, and 

biographers haggle over Sartre's influence on de Beauvoir, 13 Tina Chanter's 

overview of The Second Sex proffers a more complex series of cross-influences 

and borrowings between the two writers (Chanter 13-14, 47-79). Julien Murphy 

insists that "Beauvoir presents a more concrete view of freedom than Sartre's. 

She understood the severe political and social limitations on individual freedom [. 

. .]The significance of [Sartre and de Beauvoir's] difference on subjectivity cannot 

be underestimated" (Murphy 280-81). Diana Fuss and Sonia Kruks note similar 

influences on Fanon's thinking, yet insist on Fanon's distinctiveness (Fuss 144-45, 

12 "Now this doubly negative attitude rests on the transcendent; the fact expressed is 
transcendent since it does not exist, and the original negation rests on a truth; that is, on a 
particular type of transcendence" (BN 48). 

13 De Beauvoir herself continually maintained Sartre as the exclusive influence on her writing 
of The Second Sex: Margaret Simons relates such an instance in her elegy on de Beauvoir, 
"Beauvoir and Sartre: The Philosophical Relationship." See also de Beauvoir's own memoir La 
force des choses. passim. 

167 n.7; "Fanon, Sartre, and Identity Politics" 127). Fanon himself critiqued and 

distanced himself from Sartre in Black Skin. White Masks (138 n.24), and Kruks 

notes Fanon's foregrounding of Sartre's overlooking of his own whiteness ("F,S 

& IP" 132-33). 

In this vein, Lou Turner notes not only the differences between Fanon, de 
Beauvoir, and Sartre's thought, but also how the subject figured by the latter two 
predicates the colonial situation studied by Fanon (145-56). As I indicate below, 
de Beauvoir does not simply add sex to the list of concerns for existential bad 
faith, nor does Fanon so append race. Rather, each discusses sex or race, 
respectively, as tropes for particular relations to ideology. I would like, thereby, 
to address those elements in Fanon and de Beauvoir's respective figures of the 
colonized and the mystic that seem to formulate an analogous thinking of the 
relation of ideology and puissance, to continue the trajectory I have already 
described through Cisneros and Obejas' narrators. 14 

I turn now to de Beauvoir's figuration of the female mystic as a particular 
description of not only women's relation to the elements of knowledge, action, 
and experience that comprise ideology, but also of efforts to negotiate or 
mediate those terms by forming oppositional knowledge through experience. 15 
As Michele Le Doeuff avers, for de Beauvoir bad faith "consists in the refusal to 
recognize oneself as a free subject and the pretense of being determined by 
external circumstances," and thereby "[ejvery feeling of inferiority derives from 
a free choice" (Le Doeuff 146-47). 

De Beauvoir posits woman as alienated from herself and her own self- 
realization by masculist language, and from knowledge by her framing as Other. 
Bad faith also indicates one's alienation (Entfremdung) from one's actual positive 
potentiality, the energy-sucking mystification of a misguided knowledge or self- 

14 By "trajectory" I do not imply an explicit telos, but rather a referential motion. 

15 1 begin with de Beauvoir here quite arbitrarily, as The Second Sex chronologically precedes 
Black Skin. White Masks. 

knowledge effected by one's prior misrepresentation of oneself to oneself and to 

others. The existential concept of bad faith, even as it includes the necessity of 

realizing one's situation in order to then change it and emerge from it as a pour- 

soi subject, vaults straight over that necessary realization in its rush to get to the 

specifically active business of change. While the concept does concern the part 

that (mis)representation plays in the very realization it espouses, the ways in 

which representation comprises a knowledge — which process itself constitutes 

an experience — jumps the gap of how such knowledge, as bad faith, translates 

into the action of realization. If ideology "represents the imaginary relationship 

of individuals to their real conditions of existence," that is, if ideology comprises 

the language or imagery that "speaks" the way in which individuals know their 

situation, then both the mystic's famous "murmur" and her later writing on her 

experience constitute responses to the representational regime in which she both 

experiences, and articulates that experience. The murmur and the writing of it 

also reveal that regime's composition and architecture qua ideology. 

De Beauvoir's dialectics mesh with her conviction in existential freedom, 

and therefrom she theorizes woman-Mystery as an alienated and alienating effect 

of the female's mystified relation to her "real conditions of existence" whose 

resolution depends on her active realization of her situation: 

If it be admitted that the inessential conscious being [i.e. "woman" in the 
self/ other, essential /inessential dialectic], too, is a clear subjectivity, 
capable of performing the Cogito, then it is also admitted that this being is 
in truth sovereign and returns to being essential; in order that all 
reciprocity may appear quite impossible, it is necessary for the Other to be 
for itself [pour soi] an other, for its very subjectivity to be affected by its 
otherness; this consciousness which would be alienated [alienee] as a 
consciousness, in its pure immanent presence, would evidently be 
Mystery. It would be Mystery in itself [en soi] from the fact that it would 
be Mystery for itself [pour soi]; it would be absolute Mystery. (SS 259) 

As we will see, de Beauvoir's proposal that "in order that all reciprocity may 
appear quite impossible, it is necessary for the Other to be for itself an other" 
also prefigures Spivak's positing of the subaltern female as "a map of the 

speaking being that is beyond its own grasp as other" — as overdetermined not 

in her her own right, but through the discourses that narrate her and through 

which she narrates herself. 

Yet this realization, or resolution, remains caught in not only the flight 

from responsibility of bad faith, but also, ironically, in de Beauvoir's own reliance 

on Hegelian dialectics and existentialist freedom: 

The point is that rich America, and the male, are on the Master side and 
that Mystery belongs to the slave. 

To be sure, we can only muse in the twilight byways of bad faith upon the 
positive reality of the Mystery; like certain marginal hallucinations, it 
dissolves under the attempt to view it fixedly. (££ 259) 16 

"Woman"("the Mystery"), then, can only be thought of in terms of bad faith, of 
mystification: to confront Mystery directly is to see it as illusion. Such direct 
looking, for de Beauvoir, constitutes the affirmative masculine activity of 
realization, essential to existential freedom. 

The above quotation's second statement is more ambiguous than 
Parshley's translation indicates, however: an alternate translation of the first 
portion would be "one cannot but daydream in the twilights of bad faith upon 
the positive reality of Mystery." Where does de Beauvoir send us with this 
ambiguous phrase? That to muse upon Mystery's positive reality is already to 
be in the twilights of bad faith? That to be in such twilights is already to be 
musing upon bad faith? That bad faith constitutes the twilight between rich 
America and the male on one side and Mystery and the slave on the other? That 
bad faith comprises the foundation or predication for Mystery? Whose bad faith, 
and whose foundation? Whose mystery? 

Since for de Beauvoir bad faith indicates misinformed action, and not a set 
of psychological and behavioural determinations, freedom in de Beauvoir's 

existential schema underestimates the overdeterminations of ideology later 

16 «[C]'est que la riche Amenque, le male, sont du c6t6 du Maitre et que le Mystere est propria 
de l'esclave. Bien entendu, on ne peut que rever dans les crepuscules de la mauvaise foi sur la 
reality positive du Mystere; semblables a certaines hallucinations marginales, des qu'on essaie 
de le fixer il se dissipe» (PS 1:403) 

indicated by Althusser. While noting the numerous foreclosures that masculist 

thinking places in woman's path, and deeming submission to such blockages as 

women's bad faith, de Beauvoir nevertheless sidesteps the issue by averring and 

advocating woman's positive realization of her situation whereby she may 

liberate herself from it, by activity gendered masculine, and begin to live 

authentically. As Elizabeth Hardwick suggests, although many women do not 

remain so passively unprepared to live authentically, "[t]hese persons' claims are 

admitted quite fully throughout fThe Second Sexl . but always with the 

suggestion that the women who seem to be 'existents' really aren't and those 

who insist they find fulfillment in the inferior role are guilty of 'bad faith' " 

(Hardwick 52). 

What de Beauvoir's dialectics hint at but nevertheless underestimate, 
however, is the phenomenon of ideology that evaporates upon one's 
recognition of it, ideology's displacement and ability to reconstitute its effects 
elsewhere. De Beauvoir's dialectical proposal here folds in on itself. Despite her 
statement that "Mystery is never more than a mirage that vanishes as we draw 
near to look at it" — from which point she discusses such effects in the reading of 
women as represented in novels, or in the usefulness of mystery to masculist 
discourses — de Beauvoir's reliance on dialectical synthesis and existentialist 
freedom keeps her from developing further a theory of woman in relation to 
ideology. What she offers nonetheless is a correlation between mystery and 
ideology, simultaneously engaging Marx's formulation and feeding it back 
through the very metaphor of "mystery." 

Situation, Freedom, Alienation 

The existential permutation of ideology into bad faith through false 
consciousness thus sets two parallel and simultaneous discourses to work for de 
Beauvoir. First, one of knowledge constituting, as well as in addition to, lived 
experience [le vecu]. Second, one of claims to truth. For Engels, de Beauvoir and 

Sartre particularly, the two discourses would intersect at the point called agency 

or subjectivity. We must also, however, clarify the existential notions of situation 

and freedom that inform de Beauvoir's formulations of both bad faith and the 

mystic. Catharine Savage Brosman explains these terms: 

[one's] situation [. . .] is a given, in the sense [of] historically situated by 
circumstances beyond individual control, including social, linguistic, and 
political circumstances, and is characterized by facticity — that is, embodied 
as man or woman, of a certain race, in a world of material objects. Yet [. . 
.] one cannot refrain from responding to circumstances, rejecting or 
accepting them, and, ultimately, choosing oneself on the basis of 
circumstances. This is the existentialist understanding of freedom: not an 
abstract, limitless power but the exercise of choice within the framework 
of given factors, toward a freely chosen end. (29) 

"What is meant by the term situation" Brosman concludes, "is the totality of 
circumstances and response" (29). 17 Margaret Simons further clarifies that in The 
Second Sex, de Beauvoir "locates her ethical inquiry within the context of specific 
historical relationships, and asks how, given man's historical definition of woman 
as Other, authentic relationships between men and women are possible [. . .] 
Meaning, for Beauvoir, is always situated and historical" in existentialist 
terms ("Two Interviews" 27). As we will see, de Beauvoir nevertheless plays the 
"situated and historical" meaning she ascribes to the mystic's experience into a 
project of transcendence, of pour-soi realization of woman's" existential freedom. 
We will also see how de Beauvoir insufficiently analyses the facticity Brosman 
notes in de Beauvoir's existential notion of situation, by underestimating the 
complexity of the constructions (i.e. sex, race) she herself nevertheless treats as 

The figure of the "mystic" in The Second Sex extends de Beauvoir's 

17 Brosman includes the endnote that "Sartre would insist, however, that situation is a 
'detotalized totality,' a never-complete synthesis" (155 nl) — which maintains de Beauvoir's 
concern for individual human singularity over the female mystic's endeavor to disavow her 
singularity in favor of the totality of God. 


general existential figuration of woman. 18 Yet the mystic — as woman, 
mystery — for de Beauvoir also denotes an intersection of discourses on ideology, 
subjectivity, agency, and the sexuated female body. As Judith Butler suggests, 
"Beauvoir insists that the body can be the instrument and situation of freedom 
and that sex can be the occasion for a gender that is not a reification, but a 
modality of freedom" (Gender Trouble 196 n21). It is de Beauvoir's rhetoric that 
most explicitly links ideology and the figure of woman to the further figure of 
the female mystic. The Second Sex connects these elements early on: "Clearly no 
woman can claim without bad faith to situate herself beyond her sex" (DS 1 13). w 
That is, for de Beauvoir, woman's sex is inescapable, is part of her existential 
singularity: "Surely, woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is 
abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, 
separate individual" (SS xx). Woman's biology may not determine her, but 
certainly is, for de Beauvoir, an indesociable part of woman. Thus, for de 
Beauvoir, to try or claim to situate herself beyond her sex, her inescapable 
biology, is woman's bad faith, her misassumption and "flight from reality" or 

The problem that de Beauvoir indicates in this proviso is that sex remains 
a contingent category that itself mediates the experience and representation of a 
biological reality. In the lines immediately preceding the above quotation, de 
Beauvoir insists that "To refuse the notions of the eternal feminine, the Black 
soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that there are today Jews, Blacks, and 
women; this denial does not represent for those interested /concerned (parties) a 

18 In The Second Sex. "The Mystic" appears as the last exemplum chapter before 'The 
Independent Woman," re-emphasizing the positive, masculine activity of the mystic in her 
attempt to reach without mediation "the supreme source of value" as a step in the existential 
progression that de Beauvoir illustrates. 

19 Parshley translates the prior line's «fuite inauthentique» as "flight from reality." While 
this translation maintains one of the inhered senses of «mauvaise fois», it misses the adjectival 
quality of "inauthentic flight," proleptically describing a state achieved as the result of such 
a flight. 


liberation, but an inauthentic flight" 20 (italics mine). Yet de Beauvoir verbs 

"situation" into "situate/' indicating the contradictory possibility that "situation" 

can be deliberately (that is, masculinely, actively) effected, or counter-effected. 

"Situation" would thereby simultaneously indicate not only the series of givens 

one is born into, but also the possibility of successful existential self-realization. 

Such a realization, as Butler notes, is ironically enabled for de Beauvoir by the 

same female body she considers inescapable (Gender Trouble 196 n21). 

"To tell the truth, her situation makes woman very liable to such a view' 

of herself as synecdochic mystery: she knows herself only as mystery and 

remains in bad faith (S£ 257). This line also translates as "her situation singularly 

disposes her to be considered under this figure," implying woman's self- 

(mis)representation to both herself and to others. De Beauvoir indicates woman 

as myth, partially in the sense later formulated by Roland Barthes as what one 

assumes "naturally," as zuhat-goes-without-saying. As Louis-Jean Calvet explains, 

such a notion of myth connotes both "a symbolic account of the human 

condition [and] a lie, a mystification" (123). The presumption of the lie that myth 

woman thereby poses would already define ideology for de Beauvoir, 

recapitulating the existential sense of lie that opposes an equally supposed 

truth — as well as a knowledge opposed to an experience. As de Beauvoir 

exemplifies the matter, "against the dispersed, contingent, and multiple 

existences of actual women, mythical thought opposes the eternal Feminine, 

unique and changeless" (S£ 253). De Beauvoir again evinces her own investment 

in dialectics by working within the opposition "actual women" / "eternal 

Feminine," apparently ignoring the reductive process of representation itself, 

even as she hints at it by marking women's existence as "dispersed, contingent, 

20 My translation of «Refuser les notions d'6ternel feminin, d'^me noire, de caratere juif, ce n'est 
pas nier qu'il y ait aujord'hui des Juifs, des Noirs, des femmes: cette negation ne represente pas 
pour les int£ress6s une liberation, mais une fuite inauthentique » (DS 1 13). 

21 «A vraie dire sa situation la dispose singulierement a Stre considered sous cette figure» (DS:1 

and multiple." 

De Beauvoir's description of the mystery that woman poses for man (or 

that the "feminine" poses for the "masculine" — the conflation here is de 

Beauvoir's) already sets the stage for her later explanation of the mystic's 


Of all these myths, none is more firmly anchored in masculine hearts than 
that of feminine "mystery" [that] permits an easy explanation of all that 
appears inexplicable; the man who "does not understand" a woman is 
happy to substitute an objective resistance for a subjective deficiency of 
mind; instead of admitting his ignorance, he perceives the presence of a 
"mystery" outside himself [. . .] This subjective game, which can go all the 
way from vice to mystical ecstasy, is for many a more attractive experience 
than an authentic relation with a human being. (Second Sex 256 emphasis 

The incomprehensibility, of course, would lie with the male and the masculine, a 

projection of a subjective inability or unwillingness to understand. 

De Beauvoir, however, also implicates women themselves who subscribe 

to such projections in their own reduction, in existentialist terms of (in-)authentic 

relations between human beings. She describes a kind of alienating 

representation: the projection of a presumed mystery that metaphorizes and 

reduces human others in ways that save the projecting subject from confronting 

otherness tout court. But de Beauvoir herself seems to overlook this matter of 

representation qua representation. De Beauvoir's text, apparently in keeping 

with the existential "absolute freedom" hypothesis, maintains a sense of female 

agency in her conceptualization of the mutual other-mystery of the sexes: 

The truth is that there is mystery on both sides: as the other who is of the 
masculine sex, every man, also, has within him a presence, an inner self 
impenetrable to woman; she in turn is in ignorance of [elle ignore]\he 
male's erotic feeling. But in accordance with the universal rule I have 
stated, the categories in which men think of the world are established from 
their point of view, as absolute: they misconceive reciprocity, here as 
everywhere. A mystery for man, woman is considered [est regarded to be 
mysterious in essence. (Second Sex 256-57) 

Yet whereas Parshley's translation states that "['woman'] in turn is in ignorance 

of the male's erotic feeling" (SS 256), de Beauvoir's statement «elle ignore ce 

qu'est l'erotisme du male» equally implies that woman deliberately, actively, 

ignores men's eroticism, or "erotics," within a male-dictated network (DSil 400 

italics mine). 

The prior translation— "she is in ignorance of" or "she is unaware of that 
which is the male's erotics — indicates a mutual or reciprocal ignorance of the 
sexes' erotics. But since male eroticism comes to define eroticism tout court, only 
female sexuality is deemed mysterious and so follows women's synecdochic 
reduction to mystery. Lacan works from this very premise in Seminar XX. by 
proposing that "[jjouissance, qua sexual, is phallic" (Fink 9). Therefrom Lacan 
also posits female puissance, that which already exceeds the bounds of erotic 
description or knowledge within phallic-dictated erotics, as "beyond the phallus." 

The metaleptic performativity, that is, conjuring the very thing to which it 
refers by referring to it, or constativity, as a rhetorical strategy, of de Beauvoir's 
pronouncement remains debatable. By the same argument she overlooks that, 
within the very phenomenon she describes where "the categories in which men 
think of the world are established from their point of view, as absolute" and despite 
her assertion that "men are unable to penetrate her special experience through 
any working of sympathy[;] they are condemned to ignorance of the duality of 
woman's erotic pleasure, the discomfort of menstruation, and the pains of 
childbirth," women would thereby "know" all too well "masculine" erotics. This 
overdetermination constitutes for de Beauvoir woman's bad faith by 
formulating woman's knowledge of her own particular eroticism in terms of 
men's, and in masculine terms. Erotics-as-masculine would thereby mark the 
limit of erotics in de Beauvoir's existential-dialectical schema that, for Lacan, 
feminine sexuality or puissance, would go "beyond." 

The Mystic 

As noted in my introduction, "mystic" denotes "one who is initiated into a 

mystery " — itself "a secret rite/' derived from the Greek root "mu, a slight 

sound with closed lips" and also the verb "to bind" (Skeat 300b). De Beauvoir 

marks this "mu-te" nature of the mystic, positing that "it is on the level of 

communication that the word ['mystery'] has its true meaning: it is not a 

reduction to pure silence, to darkness, to absence; it implies a stammering 

presence that fails to make itself manifest and clear. To say that woman is a 

mystery is to say, not that she is silent, but that her language is not 

understood" (S£ 257). De Beauvoir insists, however, as will Spivak in a different 

context, that something remains, that "she is there, but hidden behind veils; she 

exists beyond these certain appearances" (S£257). In other words, woman 

remains within the contradictory system that mystifies the relations that alienate 

her from herself. 

Yet even choosing to ignore constitutes an active choice, proffering the 
"positive action" that de Beauvoir espouses. "For a great many women the 
roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make 
themselves anything" de Beauvoir insists (S£ 258). De Beauvoir's stress of action 
emphasizes the "do" [tun] in Marx's formulation of ideology. The ignorance that 
de Beauvoir ascribes to males vis-a-vis female sexuality constitutes an 
analogically paradoxical "activity." Men's active substitution of, and maintained 
preference for, mystery over actually facing women's sexuality in women's own 
terms, remains of course negative — yet is never referred to as bad faith. 
Circumstantial ignorance (as not-knowing) is already ascribed to women 
concerning eroticism. Despite de Beauvoir's premise that "we can only muse in 
the [twilight] of bad faith upon the positive reality of Mystery" (259), "there is no 
such thing as a masculine mystery" (259). 

De Beauvoir continues to list the various roles and projections offered to 
"woman" by her situation (e.g. "The Narcissist," "The Lover"). For each, de 
Beauvoir offers corollary illustrations of women who exceed those roles. 

Eventually, de Beauvoir insists that one ideology trumps all others: 

There is a justification, a supreme compensation, which society is ever 
wont to bestow upon woman: that is, religion. There must be a religion 
for woman as there must be one for the common people, and for exactly 
the same reasons. When a sex or a class is condemned to immanence, it is 
necessary to offer it the mirage of some form of transcendence. (S& 621) 

A religion, of course, mediated by male priesthood and upheld by earnest (but 
for de Beauvoir, mystified) female supplicants. Here, de Beauvoir metaphorizes 
the male-constructed Christian God as the "supreme source of value." The 
exemplary figure of female submission to this schema, for de Beauvoir as for 
much of Francophone philosophy, is the female Christian mystic. De Beauvoir's 
individual inheritance of and interest in the figure of the Western European 
female Christian mystic is itself, in part, symptomatic of the greater discourse on 
this figure, 22 for the mystic had already been indissolubly related to another 
figure, the hysteric. 

De Beauvoir addresses these already collapsed figures as women whose 
relations to subjectivity (whether sexual or figured as God) remain mystified by 
masculist psychoanalysis and religion. Yet the element of ideology as bad faith 
through which de Beauvoir reads such mystics' experiences itself encounters the 
particular bodily engagement with and experience of "the supreme source of 
values" that mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila represent in their writings, and 
that later interpreters such as Bernini themselves re-represent. Thus for de 
Beauvoir, the contradictory relation between what the mystic does and what, or 
whether, she knows of it is particularly played out on and in a female body 
ostensibly overdetermined by the very sexual discourses that construct it, and 

her knowledge of it, for her. As de Beauvoir puts it, "it is not that mystical love 

22 Margaret Simons notes that de Beauvoir attended classes at the Sorbonne by Jean Baruzi, 
Chair of History of Religion at the College de France, who'd written a dissertation on Saint 
Jean de la croix et le probleme de V experience mystique , an "existential-phenomenological 
description of mystical experience and the search for a truth not bounded by religious doctrine", 
and whom de Beauvoir early referred to as a mentor ("Beginnings of De Beauvoir's 
Phenomenology" 33). Simons then speculates on the influence of Baruzi's phenomenological 
reading of mystical experience on, as well as Baruzi's (indirect) introduction of Husserlian 
thought to, de Beauvoir (34-36). 

always has a sexual character, but that the sexuality of the woman in love is 

tinged with mysticism" (S£ 649). 

As I noted earlier, de Beauvoir's notion of bad faith implies an assurance 
of stable knowledge, and underestimates the mediation of representation. 
Ironically, de Beauvoir's description of the mystic's situation highlights 
representation as articulancy of an experience: how the mystical experience is 
represented, in what, or whose, language or symbolic system, and to whom. In 
her chapter "The Mystic" de Beauvoir posits the female western Christian 
mystical experience as "woman's" active attempt to directly access "the supreme 
source of value" (S£672) without male intermediation (i.e. priests and 
institutionalized religion, psychoanalysts and systematized psychoanalysis). 
Female love for a male God becomes bad faith, a displacement of the active 
subjectivity that "woman" should attribute to herself. This attempt (and /as 
"experience") is later represented in terms of sexual experience particular to the 
female body as constructed by masculist sexual discourses. 

The Mystic and Sexuated Representation 

The sexuation of female mystical experience is terrain that de Beauvoir 
inherits 23 from Christian theology in general and early psychoanalysis in 
specific. 24 Cathleen Medwick, in her study Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul. 
succinctly traces French intellectual interest in Teresa herself to just after Teresa's 
own time, through the spread of her texts by the Carmelite order, whence the 
French interest in female mystics in general (xv). In the Nineteenth Century, the 

23 "Sexuation" here indicates something both described in the verbal, imagistic, and 
metaphorical languages of sexuality, and as attributed to one particular sex. Following de 
Beauvoir, Lacan reminds us by invocation of St. John of the Cross, however, that "mystics" and 
"mystical" experience are not relegated solely to females. De Beauvoir seems aware of this 
issue, given her academic exposure to mysticism by Baruzi. 

24 Catharine Savage Brosman avers that "With respect to psychoanalysis, Beauvoir rejects its 
dogmatic insistence on universal and irreducible eroticism, preferring to see the erotic as only 
one element among others composing woman's total situation [. . .] As for Marxism, while certain 
of its principles are taken for granted, the economic monism of Marxism is explicitly rejected as 
invalid for an accurate picture of women's situation" (Brosman 126). 

neurologist Jean Martin Charcot, working at his Salp§triere sanatorium, equated 

female religious ecstasy and hysteria; the photos in his three-volume 

Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere depicted female "hysterics" in 

various poses which Charcot captioned in the vocabulary of religious 

iconography of female mystics, seeking "to catch the moment at which 

pathology dovetailed with religious fervor — the moment [Charcot] thought 

Bernini had immortalized in stone" (Medwick xv). Freud's own colleague Josef 

Breuer in his Studies on Hysteria 1893-1895 labeled Teresa "the patron saint of 

hysteria" (qtd in Medwick xv). 25 Before de Beauvoir's own contributions to the 

discourse, psychoanalysis had already appropriated Teresa herself, and, 

metonymically, the female mystic as figure, through French intellectual discourse 

and constructed her as a body-ladened hysteric. 26 As de Beauvoir puts it, 

It is sometimes piously maintained that the poverty of language compels 
the mystic to borrow this erotic vocabulary; but she has only one body at 
her disposal, also, and so she borrows from earthly love not only words 
but physical attitudes as well [. . . ] the body is never the cause of 
subjective experiences, since it is the subject himself in his objective aspect 
[. . .] Both admirers and adversaries of mystics think that to attribute a 
sexual content to the ecstasies of St. Teresa is to reduce her to the rank of a 
hysteric. But what degrades the hysteric is not the fact that her body 
actively expresses her obsessions, but that she is obsessed, that her liberty 
is under a spell and annulled. (SS 673) r 


The problem, de Beauvoir suggests, is that for both the hysteric and mystic 

" See also Mazotti, Cristina. Saint Hysteria: Neurosis. Mysticism, and Gender in European 
Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996. 

26 In her introductory essays to Freud on Women: A Reader. Elisabeth Young-Breuhl appears 
charitably ambiguous toward Charcot and Breuer, particularly noting Charcof s contribution to 
distinguishing "hysteria" as a mental disorder and not a biological presumption which at least 
began to rewrite the entire discourse on women's sexuality (3-4). 

"Parshley's "under a spell" in this passage translates de Beauvoir's envoutee. "Bewitched" is 
another translation that presents an interesting parallel to "mystified," particularly within 
the scope of a further figure analogous to the hysteric and the mystic: the witch. However 
implichiy, de Beauvoir seems aware of these figures as analogous. In The Newlv-born Woman. 
Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement explore the parallel derivations and formulations of the 
witch and the hysteric, in much the same terms that de Beauvoir, Lacan, Irigaray, Bataille 
and de Certeau see early formulations of the mystic. I had intended to include such material in 
my project, but limited space made such effort untenable. I hope to return to this particular 
triad of formulation in future work. 

"there is the same dream, the childhood dream, the mystic dream, the dream of 

love: to attain supreme existence through losing oneself in the other" 28 (SS_ 649 

emphasis mine). 

For women to dream so, to wish for ostensible self-realization through 
the other rather than within themselves as an act of existential freedom, for de 
Beauvoir, is to perpetrate bad faith. Judith Butler notes "the extent to which 
phenomenological theories such as Sartre's, Merleau-Ponty's, and Beauvoir's 
tend to use the term embodiment. Drawn as it is from theological contexts, the 
term tends to figure 'the' body as a mode of incarnation and, hence, to preserve 
the external and dualistic relationship between a signifying immateriality and the 
materiality of the body itself" (Gender Trouble 195-96 nl5). That is, the 
knowledge /experience dichotomy of discourses on ideology that overlook the 
corporeal experience of ideology recapitulates and reformulates the very 
mind/body dualism that de Beauvoir inherits. 

For de Beauvoir, any sexuality in the mystics' writings come as the 

combined result of her experience already being bodily, and its sexuated 

representation through the prior sexuation of her own body by masculist 

discourses. As de Beauvoir describes the case of St. Teresa, the female mystic's 

body becomes indispensable for and indesociable from her mystical experience: 

St. Theresa's writings hardly leave room for doubt, and they justify 
Bernini's statue, which shows us the saint swooning in an excess of 
supreme voluptuousness [...] St. Theresa in a single process seeks to be 
united with God and lives out this union in her body; she is not the slave 
of her nerves and her hormones: one must admire, rather, the intensity of 
a faith that penetrates to the most intimate regions of her flesh. The truth 
is, as she herself understood, that the value of mystical experience is 

measured not accord ing to the way in which it is subjectively felt, but 

28 «En toutes deux, (/est le meme reVe, le reve infantile, le reve mystique, le reVe amoureaux: en 
s'abolissant au sein de l'autre, exister souverainement» (DS 2:5561. The implication is more dire 
than Parshley's translation allows: the emphasized line also reads "in abolishing herself 
within the other to exist [supremely /intensely]." The term that Parshley translates simply as 
"in" — «au sein de» — denotes "within," literally "in the breast/ bosom of," which plays off 
the Heideggerian sein as the female "breast" for de Beauvoir, the possibility for being as 
potential experience in/ by the female body. This "loss" of self would violate the individual's 
singularity, thereby perpetrating bad faith (2S. xx). My thanks to Julia Kristeva for 
conversations that helped me to clarify this motif in de Beauvoir. 

according to its objective influence. (SS_ 674) 

In other words, the mystic comes to a particular knowledge of her experience, 
through her experience, by means of the very body that, according to masculist 
ideologies, should foreclose any such knowledge. De Beauvoir's point here at 
first appears contradictory: while St. Teresa's actions exhibit all the sensuality 
ascribed them by the masculist discourses that read them, her knowledge is 
neither foreclosed nor intransmissible. Yet de Beauvoir predicates her statement 
on the mystic's knowledge, and on her recognition or assumption of an other 
value system. 

De Beauvoir's formulation thereby seeks to undo the work of ideology's 
mind /body dualism by elaborating a knowledge of one element through the 
other. An alternate translation of the last line of the previous quotation will 
elaborate: "the value of mystical experience is measured not in the manner in 
which it is subjectively lived /realized, but in its objective range /scope". 29 The 
"lived" — le vecu — becomes the mode of knowledge of even the mystical. 
Catherine Savage Brosman's summation of de Beauvoir herself fits much the 
same: "Her viewpoints come from from le vecu ('the lived' — that is, personal 
experience) and thus justify the direct expression of the self in her writing" (3). It 
is therefore writing, the mystic's own representation of not only her experience, 
but also of her knowledge of that experience, that realizes the "objective 
range /scope" opened by her experience and her knowledge of it. 

De Beauvoir genders this latter effort masculine: "we must align it with St. 
Jean de la Croix" (SjS_ 674). 30 Such effort distinguishes mystics like St Teresa from 
others. It is not a simple matter of representation for de Beauvoir, however. 
Rather, what the mystic represents becomes critical. The ostensible masculinity of 

29 «[L]a valeur d'une experience mystique se mesure non d'apres la maniere dont elle a 6t6 
subjectivement vecu, mais d'apres sa portee objective* (DS:2 587). 

30 «[I]1 faut la ranger a c6t6 de saint Jean de la Croix» (DS:2 587). Unaccountably, Parshley's 
translation slips in "Suso" here as well (££. 674). 

the action is always threatened with reappropriation, depending on what the 

mystic represents: 

St. Theresa poses in a most intellectual fashion the dramatic problem of 
the relation between the individual and the transcendent Being; she lived 
out, as a woman, an experience whose meaning goes far beyond the fact 
of her sex [. . .] But she is a striking exception. What her minor sisters give 
us is an essentially feminine vision of the world and of salvation; it is not 
transcendence that they seek: it is the redemption of their femininity. (Sii 

Parshley's translation here adequately foregrounds de Beauvoir's concern for the 
problematic reduction or backslide of mystics' representations into docile and 
reinscriptive femininity. An alternate translation of the middle line of the above 
passage, however, indicates de Beauvoir's specific interests: "as woman she has 
lived an experience whose sense exceeds all sexual specification". 31 De Beauvoir 
here invokes the excessive, jouissant element of not only mystical experience, 
but also of the knowledge and articulation of it that exceeds the epistemological 
bounds set for it by masculist discourse. 

Yet, this element does not escape de Beauvoir's investment in the 
existential alignment of active pour-soi self-realization with the masculine. The 
"sense" of the experience "exceeds all sexual specification": it is not relegated to 
any sex, but nonetheless remains specifically gendered. This element applies to 
de Beauvoir's conviction that St. Teresa's texts, her own representation of her 
knowledge of her experience as well as of the experience of the disjuncture 
between her experience and masculist knowledges imposed on her, validate 
Bernini's sculpture. De Beauvoir's specific invocation of Bernini's representation 
of St. Teresa's own representation, her own narrative, inaugurates those by 
Lacan, Irigaray, and Bataille. Within de Beauvoir's schema, Bernini's statue of St. 

31 «elle a vecu en femme une experience dont le sense depasse toute specification sexuelle» (DS:2 

Teresa 32 performs a double maneuver: it adequately represents the corporeal 

experience as St. Teresa herself represents it in her text, but cannot represent that 

which escapes her text, that escapes language tout court — her puissant moan. 33 

De Beauvoir reconfigures this imagery and its corollary discourse to 
foreground the very sexuation presumed and naturalized by that discourse. Yet 
while her analysis of (sexed) subject-construction attends processes of projection 
(i.e. woman as Mystery), de Beauvoir ironically passes over the very element of 
sexuated representation she reveals, to emphasize instead what actions mystics 
take to articulate and transmit their representations of their experience. De 
Beauvoir thereby indicates a double, simultaneous experience: that of the 
"mystic" event itself of directly accessing God without male mediation, and that 
of attempting to represent that experience in patriarchal language insufficient to 
the task. De Beauvoir does not interrogate Bernini's part, as a male, in a re- 
presentation of St. Teresa's own text. 

A fundamental aporia thereby appears in de Beauvoir' s conception of 
agency figured through the ideological network within which the mystic 
operates. If for de Beauvoir activity both evinces and constitutes an existential 
authenticity whereby woman simultaneously discovers and enacts her free 
choice and agency — that is, if doing coincides existential transcendence — then 
such an experience would be aporetic in de Beauvoir's schema. Marx's formula 
"they know not what they do, but still they do it" indicates the problem. If not 
only action/ doing but also a concomitant awareness or knowing that one can 
and must change one's situation matters for de Beauvoir, then what of the 
conditions that predicate such an awareness or knowledge? How could one 
act/ do, save by knowledge, and how could one know save by action/ doing? 

32 And it is the central assembly of St. Teresa and the angel, not the entire tableaux, that de 
Beauvoir invokes. Lacan and Irigaray's reponses to de Beauvoir foreground this latter element, 
the representation of lines of specularity effected by the sculpted onlookers by which Bernini, 
wittingly or no, comments on the act of speculation, the creation of a narrative out of a "scene." 

" See my discussion of this in Chapter 1. 

Would they be coterminous, simultaneous? De Beauvoir avers that "women of 

action like St. Catherine, St. Teresa, Joan of Arc, who know very well what goals 

they have in mind and who lucidly devise means for attaining them: their visions 

simply provide objective images for their certitudes, encouraging these women 

to persist in the paths they have mapped out in detail for themselves" (S£ 678 

emphases mine). Even so, de Beauvoir indicates a specific chronology whereby 

knowledge predicates action, awareness predicates doing — but representation 

(the mystics' visions and "objective images") comes afterward and does not, 

apparently, itself comprise part of the mystics' experiences. 

Doing, in other words, would not constitute knowing; experience would 

be anterior to subjectivity and not part of it. Mystics' active experiences would 

remain outside ideology not only by fiat of avoiding bad faith, but also by 

explicit awareness of what they do and why. All that stops the mystic from 

altering her situation remains her willed submission to masculine ideology, 

comprising her bad faith. 

Then there are narcissistic women, like Mme. Guyon and Mme Kriidener, 

who, after a period of silent fervor, suddenly feel themselves in what the 

former calls 'an apostolic state.' They are not too certain about their tasks; 

and — like the excitement-seeking ladies of the social-service 

institutes — they care little what they do provided they do something. (SS 


Women thereby become alienated from their own awareness of their active 
potential. Such a subject can still appear active, but her initial passivity and lack of 
conviction gives the lie. 

De Beauvoir nevertheless ends her discussion of the female mystic 
proposing masculine activity. Yet she insists that individual effort remains futile 
in itself unless the mystic, as part of the active course of her realization, 
communicates her effort to others, to the rest of society. For de Beauvoir the 
trajectory of mystical knowledge out of otherwise unrepresentable experience 
runs through the mystic, in her internalization of the experience, and then out 

again through articulation and representation. Contemplation is insufficient; one 

must articulate, represent, and transmit. It is at this point that de Beauvoir most 

explicitly frames the mystic as not only a trope for a particular relation of woman 

to ideology, but also as an existential negotiation of an response to mystification 

in its Marxist sense: 

Mystical fervor, like love and even narcissism, can be integrated with a life 
of activity and independence. But in themselves these attempts at individual 
salvation are bound to meet with failure: either woman puts herself into 
relation with an unreality; her double, or God; or she creates an unreal 
relation with a real being [ou elle cree un irreel rapport avec un etre reel]. In 
both cases she lacks any grasp on the world; she does not escape her 
subjectivity; her liberty remains frustrated [mystifiee]. There is only one 
way to employ her liberty authentically [authentiquement], and that is to 
project it through positive action into human society. (SS 678 emphasis 

"[0]r she creates an unreal relation with a real being" — "real being," etre reel, 
implies not only an actual entity but also a real or authentic existential be-ing. De 
Beauvoir here anticipates Althusser's description of ideology as "the 
representation of the subject's Imaginary relationship to his or her Real 
conditions of existence." For de Beauvoir, woman either places herself in relation 
to an unreal, imaginary, entity (i.e. the God to whose absence she responds, as 
Bataille and de Certeau later aver), or she creates an unreal, imaginary, relation 
with real-being. Her liberty remains mystified 34 despite the fact that in both cases 
de Beauvoir describes the results of woman's activity — the very mode of agency 
and self-realization espoused by existentialism. 

"Night of the Absolute:" Black Skin. White Masks 
For the de Beauvoir of The Second Sex, at least, race is but another 
consideration on the road to a generalized realization out of bad faith. De 
Beauvoir's statement that "there is mystery in the Black, the Yellow" seems to 
include (without collapsing incommensurable elements) considerations of class, 
race and sex — but goes no further (S£ 259). Yet for Fanon, race comprises a 

34 Parshley curiously translates mystifiee as "frustrated," missing de Beauvoir's direct reference 
to Marx. 

distinct matter because it receives its own discursive treatment. As the second 

and third chapters of Black Skin, White Masks 3 5 foreground, race and sex 
constitute distinct but related phenomena. 36 Fanon does not simply add the 
element or signifier "race" to the discourse, but rather shows how "race" 
signifies a particular relation to ideology analogous to "sex." 

Fanon's work is responsive rather than reactive. Fanon cites the 
conceptual faults of Sartre's essay "Orphee Noir" in a tone of personal betrayal 
and bewilderment: "Help had been sought from a friend of the colored peoples, 
and that friend had found no better response than to point out the relativity of 
what they were doing. For once, the born Hegelian had forgotten that 
consciousness has to lose itself in the night of the absolute" (BS.WM 133). Fanon 
continues in such a vein, noting particularly the problems of Sartre's negative 
dialectical placement 37 of Nigritude in the position of antithesis: "The dialectic that 
brings necessity into the foundation of my freedom drives me out of myself" 
(Bg.WM 135). Further, Fanon reveals an unselfconscious race-transparency in 
Sartre that would later find analogy in Spivak's critique of Foucault and Deleuze, 
as well as in Derrida's critique of sex-blindness in philosophic discourse: 'Jean- 
Paul Sartre had forgotten that the Negro suffers in his body quite differently 
from the white man" (BS.WM 138). 

Still further, Fanon in dicates a particular scotoma in Sartre's schema (that 

35 Hereafter cited as BS.WM. Quotations from the original French Peau noire, masques blancs 
will be cited as PN.MB. 

36 I.e. 'The Woman of Color and the White Man" [La femme de couleur et le Blanc], "The Man of 
Color and the White Woman" [L'homme de couleur et la Blanche]. 

37 In the introduction to Feminist Interpretation s of lean-Paul Sartre. Julien S. Murphy notes 
that whereas post-Sartrean feminists in particular immediately denounce (gender) 
objectification as wholesale negative (particularly in female-denegrating pornography, as 
Catharine MacKinnon protests) writers such as Phyllis Morris ask for more expansive 
consideration of objectification as in some cases a positive and necessary element not only for 
non-oppressive relationships, but also for liberatory feminist praxes— Entdusserung over 
Entfremdung . For a discussion of de Beauvoir's view of sexual difference as exclusively 
oppressive, see Dorothy Kaufmann, "Simone de Beauvoir: Questions of Difference and 
Generation." For a discussion of "bad faith" specifically in terms of uses of racist ideology see 
Lewis R. Gordon, Bad Faith and Antiblark Racism 

de Beauvoir had glossed over in her introduction to The Second Sex): "the white 

man is not only the Other but also the master" (138). As Diana Fuss summizes, 

"in Fanon's estimation, Sartre's theory of alterity fails on two counts. First, it fails 

to register how, in colonial history, not all others are the same[;] Second, Sartre's 

deployment of a Self/ Other dialectics fails to see how the Other who is master is 

firmly located in an economy of the same" (Identification Papers 144-45). Such a 

situation indicates the very problematic of colonialism, as the kind of subject 

proposed by Sartre predicates the colonial situation (Turner 145-56). 38 

Nonetheless, Fanon extends what he finds useful in Sartre. "Jean-Paul Sartre has 

made a masterful study of the problem of anti-Semitism" Fanon concedes, 

thereby proposing "let us try to determine what are the constituents of 

negrophobia" (WS.BM 160). Therefore, Fanon's working concept of bad faith 

remains only analogous to, even if suffering from many of the same conceptual 

faults as, those of Sartre and de Beauvoir. 

Thereby, I will address what goes on in Fanon that seems to formulate an 

analogous thinking of the relation of ideology and puissance that continues the 

trajectory toward formulations such as Spivak's. 39 Fanon also cites Mannoni's 

Prospero and Caliban as an inspirational text on "the psychological phenomenon 

that governs the relations between the colonizer and the colonized," citing the 

specific conceptual tools that Mannoni provides (BS.WM 83). Yet Fanon critiques 

Mannoni's insufficient attention to "the real," and so figures his own deliberate 

confluence of existentialism, psychoanalysis, and materialism. Fanon especially 

cites Mannoni's addition of the "Prospero Complex" to the panoply of 

complexes ascribed to the colonized, which panoply only accrues taxonomies 

without investigating the matter of psychologizing the Other tout court (BS.WM 

38 Not until the work of Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, the Subaltern Studies Group, Gayatri 
Spivak and others would the "colonial situation" be formulated in a more complex manner that 
revealed the multiple, contradictory, and ambivalent series of relations that comprise 
"postcoloniality" and "global capitalism." 

39 By "trajectory" I do not imply an explicit telos, but rather a referential motion. 

107-08). Oddly, though, while engaging in the niceties of Mannoni's 

Shakespearean invocation, Fanon does not address the fact that Mannoni had 

such a ready example to draw from, nor its specific culturation. Fanon does not 

address the fact that Mannoni partially rationalizes the authority of his theory 

because its central metaphor, Caliban, already existed as a trope within 

Eurocentric culture. 

Nor does Fanon recognize the specific textual gesture he himself performs 
in his critique. Fanon begins his discussion of Mannoni with the admonition that 
"one should not lose sight of the real [. . .] although he has devoted 225 pages to 
the study of the colonial situation, M. Mannoni has not understood its real 
coordinates" (BS.WM 83-84). 40 "[T]he real," "its real coordinates"— Fanon's 
material and historical concerns here are oddly dislocated from the particular 
attention to literary text at the end of his critique of Mannoni. In the immediate 
next chapter "L 'experience vecu du Noir" — "Black Lived Experience" 41 — Fanon 
cites the poetry of Leopold Senghor, Aim6 Cesaire, Langston Hughes, Jacques 
Roumain, David Diop, and novels of Richard Wright and Chester Flimes to 
respond to the "lived experience" that Sartre overlooks. 42 Textuality and 
experience, then, are explicitly linked for Fanon. 

Bad Faith, Neurosis, Alienation 

The proximity between textuality and materiality that Fanon performs on 
the page directly involves his concept of bad faith. The very tide Black Skin. 
White Masks explicitly references bad faith as a deliberate misrepresentation of a 
self to itself and to others. Fanon makes bad faith the central element of his 
discussion, stating that he "shall try to discover the various attitudes that the 

40 «on ne doit pas perdre de vue le reel. Nous montrerons que M. Mannoni, bien qu;ayant consacr£ 
deux cent vignt-cinq pages a l'£tude de la situation coloniale, n'en a pas saisi les vgritables 
coordonnees» (PN.MB 87). 

41 Ideosyncratically translated into English as "The Fact of Blackness." 

42 Marx notably invokes literary examples throughout Das Kapital. particularly in the chapter 
on commodity fetishism, wherefrom Zizek derives Marx's definition of ideology. 

Negro adopts in contact with white civilization" (BS.WM 12). Yet, as Nigel Gibson 

expounds, 43 Fanon formulates his concept of ideology as bad faith in terms of a 

hegemony which is "far more connected to ideas than to physical force" that 

nevertheless develops "a philosophy of praxis" as in Lukare and Gramsci (115). 

As Diana Fuss notes, along with existentialism, psychoanalysis provides 
Fanon a working vocabulary and theoretical framework (T£ 141). 
Psychoanalysis also offers a particular permutation of the concept of ideology. At 
the risk of perpetrating a prolepsis, let me draw out Fanon's implicit discussion 
of ideology through his invocations of alienation. In outlining his project as 
working toward disalienation, Fanon explicitly describes alienation in terms of 
neurosis. Thereby, for Fanon, "a psychoanalyitical interpretation of the black 
problem can lay bare the anomalies of affect that are responsible for the 
structure of the complex" (BS.WM 10). Fanon sees race as a neurotic construct, or 
as the effect of neurosis. The result is alienation. 

In Frantz Fanon: Colonialism and Alienation. Renate Zahar avers that 

Fanon's interest is mainly focussed on an analysis of intellectual alienation 
(alienation intellectnelle). All colonized people are subjected to the economic 
conditions of alienation, which he considers the constitutive elements of 
psychological phenomena of alienation; however, certain types of 
intellectual aliention can also appear in various forms in most of the 
colonized. (Zahar 14) 

Yet critiques such as Zahar's of the appropriateness of Fanon's application of 

alienation to colonial subjects are narrowly Marxist, insisting that all alienations 

remain simple subsets of economic alienation (Zahar 6). Such critiques do not 

consider alienations that exceed immediate economic determinants, the very 

kind that Fanon illustrates through the literary examples he cites. Part of this 

difference rests, I aver, in the particular denotations of alienation at work. The 

original German title of Zahar's text, Kolonialismus und Entfremdung. denotes 

alienation, as Spivak explains in a different context, as "an ontological error 

perpetrated by philosophy in collaboration with political economy" (CPR 59 
43 Presumably in response to The Wretched of the Earth 220, 221. 

n.74). Nor is Fanon's sense of alienation closer to Entausserung, "an ontological 

necessity for the very predication of (the human) being and doing" (CPR 59 

n.74). As Diana Fuss explains, it is this latter sense that Fanon insists is denied to 

blacks by whites, foreclosing black subjectivity (T£ 142). Rather, Fanon's sense of 

neurosis as alienation reveals a relation between Entfretndung and Entausserung. 

As such a relation, alienation for Fanon evinces a reciprocal disjuncture 
between knowledge and experience — a mystification. Allow me a further 
prolepsis: three years later, partially in response to Black Skin. White Masks. 
Aim6 Cesaire will state "My turn to state an equation: colonization = 
"thingification" [colonisation - chosification] (Discourse on Colonialism 21). In 
such a formula, Cesaire teases out the proximital discourses of existential 
alienation and Luk^csian reification in Fanon. Cesaire also indicates Fanon's 
specific concern with ideology, given Lukacs' figuring of reification as "an 
ideological, rather than a material problem" (Hawkes 09-10). "They talk to me 
about civilization," Cesaire declares, "I talk about proletarianization and 
mystification" (22). For Fanon, neurosis effects just such a mystifying reification. 

"The Negro's behaviour makes him akin to an obsessive neurotic type," 

Fanon states, "or, if one prefers, he puts himself into a complete situational 

neurosis" (BS.WM 60). Fanon describes this neurosis explicitly in terms of bad 

faith: "In the man of color there is a constant effort to run away from his own 

individuality, to annihilate his own presence" (60). Violating his singularity, 

flying from responsibility, 

the Negro, having been made inferior, proceeds from humiliating insecurity 
through strongly-voiced self-accusation to despair, the attitude of the 
black man toward the white, or toward his own race, often duplicates 
almost completely a constellation of delirium, frequently bordering on the 
region of the pathological. (BS.WM 60 emphasis mine) 

Fanon clarifies that what he describes is neither a psychosis, nor a condition 
inherent to the black qua human. It is a situation imposed on the colonized, an 
effect elicited from them, by colonization. 

Fanon describes neurosis here as an interaction between environment 

and one's reaction to that environment. Read through Fanon' s notion of bad 
faith, this situation becomes ideological. "The neurotic structure" that Fanon 
describes results "in part out of the environment and in part out of the purely 
personal way in which that individual reacts to those influences" (BS.WM 81). By 
"purely personal way" Fanon invokes the singularity of the existential subject: 
"react[tion]" becomes a matter of choice. To submit to colonial neurosis is to be 
in bad faith. Yet the neurosis that Fanon describes both results in, and is itself a 
version of, an alienation that evinces the experience of disjuncture between the 
raced/ colonized lived experience [le vecu] and the knowledge of themselves 
promulgated by the colonizer. "If [the raced colonized object] is overwhelmed to 
such a degree by the wish to be white," Fanon avers, "it is because he lives in a 
society that makes his inferiority complex possible" (BS.WM 100). 

Fanon insists that his responsibility, as analyst and writer, is to help such a 
subject "become conscious of his unconscious and abandon his attempts at a 
hallucinatory whitening" (100). To become conscious of the unconscious: to 
demystify ideology. Curiously, though, as an analyst Fanon seeks to "destroy" 
the "massive psycho-sexual complex" rather than resolve it (BS.WM 12). To 
resolve this "complex" would only reduce it to dialectical synthesis, which is 
insufficient and only perpetuates the problem, in another form, elsewhere. 
Fanon seeks rather to destroy it because he realizes that not only is 
psychoanalysis insufficient, but also the situation he describes exceeds the 
bounds of analysis and impedes the raced and colonized's very ontological 
selves, their very lives [le vecu] (BS.WM 100). 

Experience and Representation 
Through such discussions, Fanon also posits the element of representation 
in play with experience. As evinced by its literary citations, Black Skin. White 
Masks also approaches alterity in terms of the speaking subject. Fanon's first 

chapter concerns "The Negro and Language": "I ascribe a basic importance to 

the phenomenon of language" (BS.WM 17). Fanon reminds us that "to speak is 

to exist absolutely for the other [. . .] to be in a position to use a certain syntax [. . 

.] but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a 

civilization" (BS.WM 17-18). Or rather, depending on whose language is at issue 

and who speaks it, to whom, to speak is to have the weight of a civilization 

thrust upon one, as an element of negation or consignment to the negative 

position of a dialectic. "Mastery of a language," Fanon further reminds us, 

"affords remarkable power" (BS.WM 18). Or so it does if the face from which 

speech emits is specifically, correctly, raced. For Fanon the issue is a double one 

of duped blacks, and duped and duping whites (29). The situation Fanon here 

describes is so overdetermined that, in terms of himself, "if I cry out, it will not 

be a black cry" (BJLW.M29). His voice, his speech, have already been snatched 

away from him by a presumption, external to him, of his knowledge of his own 


How is such a theft perpetrated? And what recourse would such a subject 

have? Fanon posits an Antillean who travels to Paris : "He knows that what the 

poets call the divine gurgling (listen to Creole) is only a halfway house between 

pigdin-nigger and French" (2S.WM20). In this narrative, Fanon poses several 

premises. He posits a colonized subject who is already aware of himself as 

constructed, and of how his language has been prefigured before his arrival. 

Fanon thereby figures, early in his text, a subject whose language already falls 

beyond the pale of white comprehension not by any linguistic turn, but rather 

by a pre-emptively dismissive racist epistemology. 

The original French text, however, reveals a more detailed intersection of 

discourses about this figure: "il sait que ce que les voltes avvellent «coucoulement 

divin» (entendez le Creole) n'est qu'un moyen terme entre le petit-negre et lefrancais" 

(PN.MB 35). I will attend the implications of this statement's elements in the 

order they occur. "[T]hat which the poets call the divine gurgling": here and 

elsewhere Fanon collects the derisive taxonomies applied to blacks' speech by 

colonial and metropolitan whites. "It is said that the Negro loves to jabber" 

Fanon also cites, elucidating the child-imagery such a statement evokes 44 

(BS.WM 26). Yet he invokes a particular relation between the speech of the 

colonized and "that which the poets call the divine gurgling." The allusion here is 

multiple and telling. We have already encountered such poets in my discussion 

of representation in Chapter One, where Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan reminds us 

that "Socrates claims that the gods who inspire the poets into utterance have also 

made them blind, that is, cognitively incompetent Poets 'express' but know not what 

they express" (DM 99 emphasis mine). Fanon invokes and illustrates not just such 

a "cognitive incompetence," but rather the presumption and projection of such 

by racist epistemologies. 

Yet by his inclusion of the Anullean's knowledge that the kind of language 

dubbed "divine gurgling" by "the poets" comprises, to the racist ear, no more 

than a middle-term between pigdin and French [n'est au'un moyen terme entre le 

petit-negre et le francais], Fanon illustrates the puissant element at play in this 

situation. As the middle term, the "divine gurgling" or "jabber" of "the Negro" 

is simultaneously that which determines that subject's ambiguity, but also that 

third term which threatens to disrupt the dialectic by resisting both the thetical or 

antithetical positions. This middle term, read explicitly through "the poets," 

invokes Kanf s 1790 Critique of Judgment which posits an apperception of the 

world "as the poets do" — that is, by acknowledging the unrepresentable 

44 "On dit que le Noir aime les palabres": translating "les palabres" as "jabber" misses its other 
meanings of "interminable discussion" or "chattering" (PN.MB 41). The imagery invoked is 
both animalistic and temporal. The rest of the statement implies not only infantile language, 
but also, within the scope of the mystic trope, a pattern of experiential initiation into a 
knowledge: "when for my part I say 'jabber/ I see a group of jubilant children, emitting 
inexpressive calls, raucous; children playing openly, in the measure of a game that can perhaps 
be considered a life-initiation" [quand pour ma parte je prononce «palabres», je vois un groupe 
d'enfants jubilant, lancant vers le monde des appels inexpressifs, des raucites; des enfants en 
plein jeu, dans la mesure ou le jeu peut-£tre concu comme initiation a la vie] (PN.MB 41. 
emphasis mine). 

puissant element of experience that defies systematized, customary 

epistemologies (Kant 122). 45 That the "divine gurgling" is actually a viable 

language — Fanon cites Creole as his example — already experientiaUy resists the 

epistemology imposed on it. Within itself, such divine gurgling presents a 

possible resistance to the very epistemologies that so determine it. Particularly as 

an element paradoxically "known" by the subject who otherwise would remain 

consigned to her ideological position, such a knowledge would again register the 

experience of the contradiction between experience and knowledge, rather than 

the contradiction itself. 

In an analogous context, Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan describes the steps 

of representation as a 

program of naming and unnaming[:] ethnic reality realizes that it has a 
"name," but this name is forced on it by the oppressor, that is, it is the 
victim of representation; it achieves a revolution against both the 
oppressor and the discourse of the oppressor and proceeds to unname 
itself through a process of inverse displacement; it gives itself a name, that 
is, represents itself from within its own point of view; and it ponders how 
best to legitimate and empower this new name. (DM 69) 

For Fanon, representation comprises simultaneously the ideological situatedness 
that subjects seek to escape, as well as the means of that escape. Yet the problem, 
as Radhakrishnan also subsequently identifies, is that this process enacts a 
dialectics wherein representation itself constitutes an experience that the dialectic 
overlooks. This sense of experience, as a kind of excessive or oppositional 
knowledge, insists that "the very immediacy of felt, lived, historical and 
existential reality does not obviate the need for an analysis of the forms in which 
this reality is packaged, comprehended, accounted for, and judged' (DM 70). It 
becomes very much a matter of knowing both what one experiences and that one 

45 See particularly Paul de Man's "Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant" (74-76) and 
"Kant's Materialism" (126-127) in Aesthetic Ideolog y on Kanfs "material sublime" and 
unrepresentability. See also Edmund Husserl's Cartesian Meditations (70-75. 108-111). Both 
Husserl and de Man attend the issues of unrepresentability and experience raised by Kant's 
material sublime as puissant elements that defy dialecticalism, and thereby posit other- 
knowledges and other-subjectivites not prey to Entfremdung. 


experiences it — and what modes and forms of representation both result from 
and enact that process. 


In his own person Fanon experiences the disjuncture between racist- 
colonialist knowledge of him and his own lived experience. Hence his emphasis 
of "L 'experience vecu du Noir," "Black Lived Experience." Long before Lacan's 
Encore. Fanon notes that the colonized's "neurosis"— the alienation caused by 
the bad faith the colonized is maneuvered into — is both the experience and 
situation of such a disjuncture. Fanon explicitly links neurosis to experience: 'It 
could not be stated more positively; every neurosis has its origins in specific 
Erlebnisse," which term denotes experience, adventure, occurrence, precisely the 
cognate of le vecu (BS.WM 144). Fanon thereby revises the Marxian formula of 
ideology from a disjuncture between action and knowledge, to a disjuncture 
between knowledge and experience. 

Yet Fanon also detects an element within his experience that threatens, or 
promises, to disrupt the dynamic that brings it into being. His experience has 
heretofore been dictated by the knowledges extended to him "by the other, the 
white man, who had woven me out of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories" 
(BS.WM 111). His soi-disant neurotic activity responded accordingly. Yet he notes 
that, despite all that white society already demands of him, he is asked to 
perform one particular task still: "I believed that I had to construct a 
physiological self, to balance space, to localize sensations, and here one 
demanded of me a supplement" (PN.MB IIP). 46 Fanon indicates that he is not 
asked simply to do more, but to provide, by his being, a supplement. To what? 
Fanon averred that in the dialectical schema of racist colonialism, "the white man 
is not only the Other but also the master." Similarly, Kaplana Seshandri-Crooks 

46 My translation of «Je croyais avoir a construire un moi physiologique, a gquilibrer l'espace, a 
localiser des sensations, et void que Ton me rSclamait un suppl6ment.» Markmann's translation 
renders the last clause "and here I was called on for more" which de-emphasizes the element of 
supplement (BS.WM 111). 

suggests that "anxiety in race is endemic insofar as Whiteness tries to fill a space 

which must remain empty, or unsignified [. . .] As the master signifier of race, 

Whiteness maintains the structure of (visible) difference [. . .] which locates the 

subject as desiring (thus eternally lacking) whiteness" ("Desiring Whiteness" 59). 

Yet Fanon sees himself continually (re)called to serve as antithetical negative, to 

remind whiteness of itself. As supplement, as puissant excess, Fanon's blackness 

then effects a particular disruption of whiteness as the dominant model. 

Fanon notes the potential such an excess proffers him: "The white man 

had the anguished feeling that I was escaping from him and that I was taking 

something with me" (BS.WM 128). What Fanon threatens to escape with is not a 

puissance essential to him or to blackness, any more than de Beauvoir would so 

posit for woman. Rather, he threatens to escape with a puissance already 

ascribed to him. "[The white man] went through my pockets," Fanon continues, 

"He thrust probes into the least circumvolution of my brain. Everywhere he 

found only the obvious. So it was obvious that I had a secret. I was interrogated; 

turning away with an air of mystery, I murmured" (BS.WM 128 emphasis mine). 

What he murmurs, in this narrative, is a poem by Senghor. Mystery, 

murmuring, poetry — yet Fanon invokes not so much Socrates' "cognitively 

incompetent" poets who " 'express' but know not what they express" (DM 99), 

but rather those poets who know all too well what they express. They represent 

their experience, and their knowledge of their experience, which remains outside 

the knowledge that whiteness would circumscribe. Fanon redefines Kanf s 

material sublime, 47 then, by further altering the context of unrepresentability. 

Long before Lacan's Encore or Irigaray's Speculum. Fanon posits a concept of 

puissant "beyond." By reading such phenomena through the discourse of race 

and the raced body that is not reducible to these influences, but that indelibly 

stamps them, Fanon propos es a particular negotiation of race discourse. He 
47 Fanon so invokes Kant in the final chapter of Black Skin. White Masks: "My black skin is not 
the wrapping of specific values. It is a long time since the starry sky that took away Kanf s 
breath revealed the last of its secrets to us. And the moral law is uncertain of itself (227). 

mediates the ostensible contradiction between knowledge and experience 

perpetrated upon him, by himself mediating the very element of experience. 

His cry, his representation of his knowledge of his experience, will indeed 
"not be a black cry." The experience from which such an articulation would 
emanate, and of which that cry would formulate a knowledge, would already be 
in excess of the ideological relations that already demand it as excess. Thereby his 
statement "I am a Negro — but of course I do not know it, simply because I am 
one" (BS,WM 191) 48 ironically reconfigures the Marxian formula of ideology in 
terms of a knowledge of one's experience. Such knowledge exceeds that 
delineated by whiteness; the experience of that knowledge, as well as that which 
produces that knowledge, similarly exceeds. 

Body and Quandary 

Equally ironically, it is by the very body constructed by the discourses of 
race that Fanon comes to such a knowledge, and through which he experiences 
that knowledge. Equally oddly, Fanon frames his projection as a prayer: "My 
final prayer:/ O my body, make of me a man who questions!" (BS.WM 232). 
Fanon's final call on his own body is instrumental to his questioning, to the 
formatting of his knowledge. Alienated from his body by its projection and 
inscription by racist colonialism, Fanon evinces the contradiction between the 
knowledge of that body presented to him and his experience of inhabiting that 
body. 49 As Judith Butler notes, "For Fanon, the blackness of the Negro's body is a 
brute fact, and must found the subject's identification and not be displaced by 
identification with nation or ethnicity. Such misplaced identification for Fanon [. . 
.] is caused by the ideological power of French cultural imperialism. Ideology 
then pertains to the positioning of blackness" (Gender Trouble 31). 

Yet Fanon's formulation of the body of the colonized is formulated 

48 «Je suis un negre — mais naturellement je ne le sais pas, puisque je le suis» (PN.MB 191). 

49 If, that is, he indeed "inhabits" that body, since the same body he refers to throughout his 
text is, surmiseably, that which he already declares in his introduction is a white projection. 

through Lacan's concept of the mirror stage. Rather than retread this particular 

stream of influence, let us consider the subject that Fanon describes through 

Lacan as a specific relation to the elements of ideology. In working his concept of 

the raced and colonized subject through the Lacanian process of mirror-stage 

recognition, Fanon moves us from the Marxian contradiction between 

knowledge and action toward the later Lacanian contradiction between 

knowledge and experience. 50 Twenty years before Lacan's Encore. Fanon intuits 

the explicit role played by representation as an ideological matter itself. 

I will illustrate by addressing both Fanon's text here, and Seshandri- 
Crooks' reading of it as well. Fanon indicates the centrality of representation to 
the operations he describes. Whereas Kaplana Seshandri-Crooks notes that "the 
unconscious anxiety that is entailed by the sight of racial difference, has its cause 
not in ideology, but in the structure of race itself, and in the functioning of its 
master signifier, 'Whiteness'," what gets overlooked is the functioning of that 
master signifier as itself an act of representation, and thereby the very matter of 
ideology (32). To explain her notion in terms of Fanon's discourse on race, 
Seshandri-Crooks invokes Lacan's illustration of the mirror stage from Seminar 
1: "between a concave mirror and a plane mirror, a vase out of the line of vision 
is inverted below a box, with a bouquet of flowers placed upright above it. The 
concave mirror reflects a 'real' image which projects the vase upright with the 
flowers in the vase, with the image itself seeming to appear behind the mirror as 
with plane mirror images" (Seshandri-Crooks 32). She continues with her 
Lacanian illustration to discuss ego-identification in raced subjects as elaborated 
by Fanon. 

Let me build parallel to Seshandri-Crooks out of Fanon here. She invokes 

the very Lacanian illustration that explains the workings of ideology as a matter 

of contradiction between kn owledge and experience, where the experience of 
50 As Homi Bhabha notes, "In 1952 it was Fanon who suggested that an oppositional, 
differential reading of Lacan's other might be more relevant for the colonial condition than the 
Marxist reading of the master-slave dialectic" (Locations of Culture 32). 

viewing the optical effect itself proleptically, paradoxically, constitutes the 

knowledge through which that effect is read. What Lacan illustrates, and what 

Seshandri-Crooks invokes in her elaboration of Fanon, is the contradictory 

perception 51 of a real condition. 52 Ideology thereby would indeed contribute to 

the anxiety that Seshandri-Crooks describes, which anxiety itself registers the 

experience of a contradiction between knowledge and experience. Yet this 

discussion itself generates from a specific strategy deployed by Lacan: an 

illustration, a textual narrative, through which Lacan works through a 

knowledge of an experience that is simultaneously material and immaterial, and 

that certainly has material effects in the circumstances studied by Fanon and 

Seshandri-Crooks. The latter herself notes the jouissant potentiality of Lacan's 

illustration, noting that illustration as "a 'substitute' for the mirror stage in an 

optical experiment" (Seshandri-Crooks 32). 

Judith Butler reminds us, nevertheless, that "[t]he normative ideal of the 

body as both a 'situation' and an 'instrumentality' is embraced by both de 

Beauvoir with respect to gender and Frantz Fanon with respect to race. Fanon 

concludes his analysis of colonization through recourse to the body as an 

instrument of freedom, where freedom is, in Cartesian fashion, equated with a 

consciousness capable of doubt" (Gender Trouble 196 n 20). Sonia Kruks, 

however, indicates that Fanon's work moves beyond Sartre's specifically 

because Fanon has actual physical experience of that which he writes — because 

Fanon's textuality and materiality inform each other ("F,S, &B?" 127). Fanon 

continually grounds his discourse in a materialism that remains nonetheless 

textual: "the effective disalienation of the black man entails an immediate 

recognition of social and economic realities" fBS.WM 10). Despite complaints by 

51 In her discussion, Seshandri-Crooks is of course concerned with the issue of perception, of 
"who sees," that is fundamental to any resistant discourse on race (Seshandri-Crooks 33). It is 
this matter of the gaze as overdetermined indicator of lack that she excellently pursues in her 

52 Given Fanon and this Lacan's predicacy of Althusser, I can as yet invoke Althusser's formula 
only to the extent of these terms. 

Fuss, Seshandri-Crooks or others concerning Fanon's invocation of the body, his 

formulations in Black Skin. White Masks remain particularly cogent. In this 

explicitly psychoanalytic text on ideology, experience, and representation, Fanon 

valorizes the very body that psychoanalysis had devalued through a series of 

pathologizations and hystericization. Fanon thereby also suggests a knowledge 

and experience that exceed even his own abilities as an analyst. 

Possibilities and Problematics 

Sonia Kruks nevertheless points out Fanon's flaw in adopting "the most 
radical transcendental concept of freedom" in Sartre: the claim that one can 
"through sheer commitment, leap beyond the bounds of historical situation" ("F, 
S & IP" 132). Kruks implies here a trajectory in Fanon's thought that I find 
analogous to de Beauvoir's in her insistence that "no woman can claim without 
bad faith to situate herself beyond her sex." Recognizing de Beauvoir's modeling 
of female resistance on masculine activity, Irigaray and Spivak both, 
serendipitously, critique masculine model through the same figure: the goddess 
Athena. In "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak formulates her comments quite 
similarly to Irigaray's in "Veiled Lips": "Figures like the goddess 
Athena — 'father's daughters self-professedly uncontaminated by the 
womb' — are useful for establishing women's ideological self-debasement, which 
is to be distinguished from a deconstructive attitude toward the essentialist 
subject" ("CSS?" 307). 

Yet de Beauvoir's work in The Second Sex finds analogy with Fanon's in 
Black Skin. White Masks in that both texts perform the very discourse they 
espouse. As de Beauvoir insists, "To state the question ['what is a woman?'] is, to 
me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is itself 
significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar 
situation of the human male" (S_£ xi). Nevertheless, de Beauvoir not only 
presents women who did indeed know their experience, through the example of 

the mystic as a figure of "non-knowledge." She also produces a text of excessive, 

or other, knowledge in response to discourses that insisted, equally vociferously, 
that such was impossible. Fanon, having stated "I am a Negro — but of course I 
do not know it, simply because I am one," produces a text that performs the 
disproval of black ignorance. Fanon's self -performance in Black Skin. White 
Masks will find analogy in Spivak's discussion of Bhaduri by disproving the 
ideology it fights by his very writing, working toward erasing a category by 
evaporating the very circumstances that define it and thus "realize" its class 

Anne McClintock, among others, indicates Woman as a limit to Fanon's 
thinking (Imperial Leather 360-368). We have already seen de Beauvoir' s 
overlooking of race in her proposals in The Second Sex . For these reasons, I have 
set de Beauvoir and Fanon's figurations of the mystic and the colonized into 
asymptosis. Thereby Fanon and de Beauvoir find analogy in their insistence on 
realization out of bad faith as a project that reaches beyond the individual. Each 
emphasizes a collectivity of singularities where alienation (and its resolution) is 
concerned: "It will be seen that the black man's alienation is not an individual 
question" (BS.WM 11). Black Skin. White Masks prefares its final statement 
through conviction in existentialist realization: "One duty alone: That of not 
renouncing my freedom through my choices" (229). Yet, lest we think Fanon's 
project facile, note that in his description of an alienating bad faith, Fanon notes 
the reciprocal event that gives the lie to Sartre's commentary in "Orphee Noir": 
"The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his 
superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation" (BS.WM 60). 
Ideologues become existential victims of their own ideology — but of course they 
cannot know this. 

Yet Fanon is not unaware of the reappropriability of the puissance he 
proposes. Diana Fuss notes that Fanon "asks whether, in colonial regimes of 

representation, even otherness may be appropriated exclusively by white 

subjects" (IE 142). As we saw Radhakrishnan and Zizek warn before, puissance, 

as excess, is always in danger of reinscription. Fanon's critique of, and de 

Beauvoir's reworking of Sartre's Hegelian dialecticalism similarly prefigure Luce 

Irigaray's supposition of the Self/ Other dichotomy as weighed in favor of the 

Same. Fanon and de Beauvoir's texts also prefigure Irigaray's in proposing the 

masculine (or whiteness) as the excess that gives the reciprocal lie to its own 

superfluity, thereby violating masculinity's and whiteness' own dialectics. Fanon 

and de Beauvoir's figures, as well as de Beauvoir and Fanon themselves, 

therefore exemplify the "kynicism" avered by Peter Sloterdijk. In response to 

ideological "cynics" who "know very well what they are doing, but still [do] it" 

in perpetrating ideology, "kynics" effect a reciprocal maneuver that resists 

cynicism by evincing the very knowledge and experience that ideological 

cynicism would deny them (SOI 29). 


The mystical is by no means that which is not political. It is something 
serious, which a few people teach us about [. . .] they get the idea, they 
sense that there must be a jouissance which goes beyond. That is what we 
call a mystic. 

— Jacques Lacan (147) 

She senses something remains to be said that resists all speech, that can at 
best be stammered out. 

— Luce Irigaray (S_ 139) 

Like de Beauvoir and Fanon, Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray also posit 
subjectivity through language. Through their respective figurations of the female 
mystic, Irigaray and Lacan respond explicitly to de Beauvoir' s, and implicitly to 
Fanon' s, discussions of knowledge and experience in terms of speaking subjects 
who recognize the ideological disjuncture between the two. Lacan and Irigaray 
both either reject, or turn back on themselves, considerations of such subjects 
effecting bad faith. Instead, an increasingly complex relationship to 
representation develops out of discourses such as Fanon and de Beauvoir's. 
Irigaray and Lacan both work problems of representation in terms of ideology 
through the concept of jouissance. 

Yet their similar involvement with, if not commentary on, psychoanalysis 
and a certain Marxism, nevertheless effects explicit diversions between Lacan and 
Irigaray's thinking. Whereas Lacan focuses on how the female subject negotiates 
her puissant experience through overdetermined language, Irigaray asks what 
de Beauvoir and Lacan have overlooked, but what Fanon has already considered 
in terms of race: how did the subject come to such an experience? For both Lacan 
and Irigaray, the matter becomes one of the field of potentiality that ideological 


mystification disrupts, as well as the trope for negotiation that the figure of the 

mystic provides. In tracing the development of this trope and the relation 

between knowledge, experience, puissance and representation that it describes 

through Lacan's Encore and Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman I reflect on 

the literary and theoretical discussions of Cisneros, de Beauvoir, and Fanon, and 

delineate the confluent issues that the next chapter will discuss through Gayatri 


"Beyond the Phallus": Lacan 

In "God and the Jouissance of The Woman" Jacques Lacan posits "a 
jouissance beyond the phallus" achievable by women (and some men), "a 
jouissance proper to her and of which she may know nothing, except that she 
experiences it" (F_S_ 145). Lacan makes textually explicit the revision that Fanon 
earlier effected to Marx's formulation of ideology in Black Skin, White Masks . 
Lacan's formulation further permutes the element of contradiction central to the 
Marxist concept of ideology. Rather than only a contradiction between doing 
what one does and knowing that or why one does it, Fanon and Lacan further 
posit a disjuncture between a subject's (lived) experience and the knowledges 
afforded to the subject through which to know that experience. Experiencing and 
yet not "knowing" what is experienced, women remain alienated from that 
experience in language. 

Yet Fanon and Lacan both also posit an excess, a jouissance to the 
epistemic rubrics imposed on the subject by which the subject can mediate the 
very terms of knowledge and experience. Lacan invokes his senses of jouissance 
through "what we quaintly refer to as a mystic" (F_S_ 146). As for de Beauvoir, the 
figure of the female mystic provides Lacan a trope for women as speaking 
subjects whose avenues of articulation and knowledge are overdetermined by 
phallic language. Such a figure effects a mediation of the terms experience and 
knowledge through jouissance. Given this jouissant element, both Fanon and 

Lacan usher the further element of representation to the stage. By an intersection 

of the subject's body 1 and representation, the subject may not only come to 

know what she experiences. The subject may also experience her own 

knowledge of that experience, and come to represent that knowledge to herself. 

Thereby the subject can realize the ideological bounds of the epistemic rubrics 

that previously denied access to such knowledge by overdetermining the 

subject's available linguistic field. "The mystical is," Lacan thereby insists, " by no 

means that which is not political. It is something serious, which a few people 

teach us about, and most often women or highly gifted people [who] sense that 

there must be a jouissance that goes beyond. That is what we call a mystic" (FS 


Ideology and Jouissance 
Insofar as his figure of the mystic describes a specific relation to and 
mediation of the elements of ideology through jouissance, Lacan reconfigures the 
Marxian formula of ideology. He does so through the speaking subject, the 
subject imbued with language. Much as de Beauvoir pronounced in The Second 
Sex. Lacan, through Freud, "assume[s] that people are not born human, but 
rather they become so through incorporation in the cultural order" (Assiter 89). 
As Elisabeth Roudinesco suggests, Lacan's writings at this time was part of an 
effort "to reexamine the great myths on which he had based his interpretation of 
Freud" including jouissance and mysticism (Roudinesco 358). Lacan pursued such 

an endeavour through Surrealism also by way of Bataille's writings on female 

1 Both Rose and Fink's English translations deduce "experience" from Lacan's verb "eprouve." 
Alternate translations include "feel" and "test." While I maintain the sense of "experience," 
the other translations also bear on Lacan's text. "Feel" would harken to the somatic tradition of 
Euro-Christian mysticism, given that the paradox the mystic experiences is that of evidence of 
the divine through corporeal sensation. It is this sense that intersected various other presumed 
discourses of the body, and that contributed to the "hystericization" of the female mystic by 
Charcot and others. This same sense, then, is what Irigaray seeks to reclaim i her discussion of 
the mystic's experience as particular to either women's bodies, or feminine sexuality. "Test" 
would fit with the formula's other transitive verb, sait. From savoir, "to know a fact," rather 
than connaitre, "to be familiar with," this verb posits an object-knowledge relation to the 
mystic's jouissance. The knowledge she would achieve of her jouissance, and by her jouissance, 
would maintain a paradoxically distant tone from the bodily ecstasy she experiences. 

mystics — which influence accounts, some aver, for his particular delight in 

Bernini's tableau in Rome of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila (Sarup 189-90 n.10). 

Yet Lacan's description of the mystic figure also echoes Engels' description 
of ideological processes in The German Ideolog y: "That the material life- 
conditions of the persons inside whose heads this thought process goes on in the 
last resort determine the course of this process remains of necessity unknown to 
these persons, for otherwise there would be an end to all ideology" (GJ 65-6). In 
responding specifically to de Beauvoir's figure of the mystic, Lacan also reads the 
concept of ideology through Sartre and de Beauvoir; I have already indicated 
Fanon's prior permutation of Marx's formula. Yet Lacan's concept does not fall 
prey to the dialectical pitfalls of his existentialist predecessors. His chiasmic 
textual inversion of Marx's elements "not-know/do" into "experience /not- 
know" indicates, 2 as I discuss below, two elements that exceed and disrupt 

The first of these elements, and the one that Lacan specifically invokes, is 
puissance. As Ellie Ragland-Sullivan notes, 

Lacan provocatively uses the word puissance in different contexts to mean 
both orgasm and ecstasy. At an abstract level, puissance refers to a 
narcissistic pleasure rediscovered in the other, reminiscent of mirror-stage 
union. [. . .] When Lacan asks if there can be 'pleasure or orgasm' beyond 
the Phallus, then, he is not really asking a sexual question. Rather, he is 
pointing out that one must seek pleasure — sexual or otherwise — by 
adopting a stance toward the phallus. (Ragland-Sullivan 303) 

Lacan's text accrues his definitions of puissance. In "On jouissance," an earlier 
lecture in Encore Lacan suggests that "[tjhought is jouissance [. . .] there is 

2 Buried within this analysis is the sub-analysis of the phrasing of each formulation: in both 
Marx's German ("Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es") and Lacan's French («D y a une 
jouissance a elle dont peut-etre elle-meme ne sait rien, sinon quelle l'eprouve» [Lacan 69]), the 
groups not-know/do (wissen das nicht/ tun) and not-know /experience (ne sait/eprouve) both 
comprise matched transitive verbs (indicating perhaps a stunted or misdirected agency or 
potential for agency). Both also mark the discrepancy between knowledge (as awareness) and 
performance (as doing), read as experience by Lacan and transparent incognizence by Marx— a 
discrepancy solidified in Foucault's formulation oipouvoir-savoir. Both systems become prey 
for "cynical" capitalist exploitation through ideological mystification, as formulated by Zizek 
and Sloterdijk. 

jouissance of being" (Fink 70). Of his particular figure of woman Lacan avers 

"being not-whole, she has a supplementary jouissance compared to what the 

phallic function designates by way of jouissance. You will notice that I said 

'supplementary"' (Fink 73). This definition raises a point that i ill turn to 

momentarily: that of jouissance as an excess that, as excess, does not reaffirm the 

centrality of the phallus, but rather gives the lie to its claims of plenitude. Such a 

formulation of jouissance is in keeping with his conceptualization of the phallic 

signifier "woman": "[a] man seeks out a woman qua [...] that which can only be 

situated through a discourse, since [...] there is always something in her that 

escapes discourse" (Fink 33). 

Thereby, while Lacan discusses jouissance most frequently and explicitly as 

sexual, that is not the only sense in which it applies, or to which its reading 

should be restricted. Jouissance remains ambivalent in Lacan's usage, often 

effecting paradox. Lacan states that jouissance "amounts to no more than a 

negative instance (instance). Jouissance is what serves no purpose" (Fink 3). Yet 

Lacan repeatedly cites the uses to which jouissance is put; jouissance thereby has 

no purpose, but exudes use- value. Spivak borrows and extrapolates this 

particular sense of jouissance as "the excess of being that escapes the circle of 

reproduction of the subject" (IOW 259). It is an operant in specifically sexual 

economies. As Meydan Sarup notes, in Lacan's texts the term 

denotes both the possession-enjoyment of rights, privileges or property, 
and the possession-enjoyment of an object capable of giving pleasaure. In 
popular registers it means 'orgasm', with jouir as the equivalent of 'to 
come'. But jouis can antiphrastically [. . .] come to refer to the experience of 
exquisite pain which occasions a momentary loss of consciousness. It can 
also comprise an element of horror, a highly eroticised death drive that 
goes far beyond the pleasure principle. (Sarup 129-30) 

Each of these factors indicates the second element by which Lacan figures the 
mystical disruption of ideology and its dialectics: representation. The proximity 
of jouissance and representation in Lacan draws the elements of knowledge and 
experience into a relation that defies the logic of ideology. Through this program 

Lacan maps out relations between knowledge and representation. Thereby, 

puissance in Lacan indicates simultaneously that which remains "[bjeyond the 

field of ideological signification" (Eagleton 184) as well as " something which 

language cannot express, but which demands recognition" (Sarup 123). 

"Never Not Political" 

Given Lacan' s particular confluence of Marxism and psychoanalysis, 
puissance and the mystic in relation to whom he figures it are never not political 
issues. Hence his statement that "[t]he mystical is by no means that which is not 
political" (FS 146). Such a politics is itself inevitably sexual or sexuated. Yet Lacan 
deliberately resists prior sexuations and hystericizations of the mystic such as de 
Beauvoir had resisted, insisting that "[what] all sorts of decent souls around 
Charcot and others were trying to do, was to reduce mysticism to questions of 
fucking. If you look closely, thaf s not it at all" (Fink 77; F_£ 147). 3 The mystic that 
Lacan thereby figures is also a figure of resistance. Don Cuppitt suggests that 
"the great mystical writers are much more political than at first appears. For the 
mystic is a religious anarchist and Utopian, who speaks for an ancient tradition of 
protest against religious alienation" (56). Lacan responds to just such a sense of 
alienation through his figure of the mystic, as a trope of alienation from 
knowledge of her experience. Against this alienation, the mystic forms other 

Ellie Ragland-Sullivan xplicates Lacan's projection in terms closer to the 

context of historical mystics as s relation to knowledge. The matter begins with 

knowledge of the self as objectivity to the Divine's subjectivity. By "puissance 

beyond the phallus" Ragland-Sullivan avers that Lacan "probably meant to 

emphasize the final impossibility of psychic unification through sexual rapport 

for either male or female" (303). Lacan derives this motif of unification from 

Bataille, who posits the mys tic's search to unify herself with the absent God, the 
3 «[Ce qui] toutes sortes de braves gens dans 1' entourage de Charcot et des autres, c'Stait de 
ramener la mystique a des affaires de foutre. Si vous y regardez de pres, ce n'est pas ca du tout» 
(Lacan 71). 

God who is in a state of lack, through an erotics which ultimately evaporates the 

boundary between Self and Other in a "non-knowledge". 4 Both Bataille and 

Lacan read such "non-knowledge" in terms of a different, oppositional, other- 

epistemology to that of the dominant model. 

At this point, where Lacan comes to posit knowledges and experiences 

beyond (au-dela) the scope of phallic sexuality, politics, and language, many 

commentators see his project doom itself. As Ragland-Sullivan puts it,"[t]here 

can be no 'beyond the phallus,' then, if by this one understands beyond 

differentiation, society, language, law and reality" (Ragland-Sullivan 305). Not 

necessarily so. Lacan admits to but cannot yet account for that which 

nevertheless exceeds. This point marks mystics' awareness of the limitations 

imposed by the very narratives they create to explain these concepts. Lacan asks 

how he or anyone else can discuss a beyond but through language, which is de 

facto phallic. If we cannot discuss such a beyond, his text surmises, we can at least 

address its possibility. Such discussion would itself exceed the bounds of that 

encapsulable within phallic discourse. 

"Beyond" Alienation 

What Lacan describes through the mystic is a kind of alienation, her 
inability to know, through phallic language, that experience which engages both 

her puissance and, in keeping with the Bernini metaphor 5 , the moan which is her 

4 See Bataille Erotism and "he «non-savoir»." Foucault begins from this point in "A Preface to 

Yet never did sexuality enjoy a more immediately natural understanding and never did 
it know a greater 'felicity of expression' than in the Christian world of fallen bodies 
and of sin. The proof is its whole tradition of mysticism and spirituality which was 
incapable of dividing the continuous forms of desire, of rapture, of penetration, of 
ecstasy, of that outpouring which leaves us spent: all of these experiences seemed to 
lead, without interruption or limit, right to the heart of a divine love of which they 
were both the outpouring and the source returning upon itself. (29) 
Later in the same essay: "Sexuality is only decisive for our culture as spoken, and to the degree 
it is spoken: not that it has been our language which has been eroticised now for nearly two 
centuries. Rather, since Sade and the death of God, the universe of language has absorbed our 
sexuality, denatured it, placed it in a void where it establishes its sovereignty and where it 
incessantly sets up as the Law the limits it transgresses" (50). 

5 Raglan-Sullivan avers that Lacan chose an image of Bernini's St. Teresa tableau "as a 
metaphorical repetition of his idea that no human subject is self-sufficient" (303). 

only register of the experience. The trope of the mystic that Lacan builds from St. 

Teresa and other examples describes a double relationship to each item of 

"phallic economy." The mystic's particular relation to puissance offers a 

paradoxical response to sexual economies of use-value and exchange-value. 

Lacan's proposal of "a puissance proper to [women, mystics] and of which 
she may know nothing, except that she experiences it" describes women's 
ostensible alienation from their own puissance, sexual and otherwise, by phallic 
language's foreclosure of her path to knowledge of that experience. The mystic 
experiences, but knows not what — she remains mystified in the Marxian and 
Fanonian senses. She may moan within the experience of puissance, for example, 
and come to represent that dual experience later. On this point Lacan places 
particular emphasis, and remains conceptually invested. Yet having to formulate 
her knowledge of her experience through phallic language, the mystic finds 
herself at an impasse, alienated from any formal knowledge of what she 
nevertheless knows she has experienced. "Jouissance," Lacan avers in such cases, 
"qua sexual, is phallic" (). 6 

Lacan thereby permutes Marx's subject manipulated by ideology through 
psychoanalytic proposals of sexuality to indicate a speaking subject alienated 
within language from her own experience. As Elizabeth Grosz states (and I 
return to this statement below in a different context), "If [Lacan] places this 
pleasure beyond the phallus and thus beyond representation, this is because the 
symbolic linguistic structure he describes is restricted to those dominant 
discourses and systems which accede women no place of their own" (146). 
Women's experience of puissance, Lacan proposes, is contradictory and ironic 

6 For an insightful overview of this thesis in Seminar XX: Encore, see Ch. 5 of Ellie Ragland- 
Sullivan, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis: Ragland-Sulivan insists that 
many later writers, particularly Irigaray, have misread Lacan's thesis here — particularly (as 
she posits) since Lacan intends the phrase "beyond the phallus" as a joke, a pun on Freud's 
Beyond the Pleasure Principle (269). Elizabeth Grosz critiques Ragland-Sullivan's maneuver in 
Tacques Lacan: A Femi nist Introduction (142). Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose's introductions 
to Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the gcol e freudienne remain the best-known and most 
cited references in English on Lacan's twentieth seminar. 

And it is always possible: his formulation admits puissance only as that of which 

"she may know nothing." Lacan here allows for the excess otjouissance even in 

his refiguring of Marx's definition of ideology. Women experience a puissance 

beyond [au-dela] phallic articulable limits. Yet as subjects in phallic language, 

women experience their knowledge of that beyond from within those limits. 

Hence, "puissance, qua sexual, is phallic." Lacan posits that women therefore 

don't know what it is they experience (be it puissance or class-knowledge) but 

only that they experience something. Thereby, women cannot relate that 

something because phallic discourse already alienates them from that 

knowledge. For Lacan, "woman" is doubly alienated. 

Let us study Lacan's textual proposal of this "beyond." In each instance, 

Lacan posits "beyond" as au-dela: e.g. "line puissance au-dela du phallus [. . J Us 

eprouvent I'idee au'il y avoir une puissance qui soit au-dela" (Lacan 69-70). 7 De 

Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, posits "beyond" as par-dela: "11 est claire qu'aucune 

femme ne peut pretendre sans mauvaisefoi se situer par-dela son sexe" (DS:1 13). This 

difference is neither accidental nor trivial, but indicates and distinguishes de 

Beauvoir and Lacan's awareness of the gender discourses in action in the fields 

they describe. De Beauvoir's preposition par-dela indicates "through/ by-(of)- 

there" with no explicit gendering of "there" other than the homophonic quality 

between the place-designation la and the feminine article la. This projection is in 

keeping with her existentialist conviction in masculine action, one exemplar of 

which is the female mystic. Lacan's au-dela in context of mystical puissance 

thereby effects a double gesture. As a prepositional phrase au-dela indicates 

literally "to-(of)-there." But Lacan's "there" is simultaneously masculine and 

feminine. Au effects the contraction of the preposition a and the masculine article 

le. Yet the actual "there," la, retains de Beauvoir's homophonic implication of the 

feminine. The beyond that Lacan projects itself remains feminine yet determined 

7 "A jouissance beyond the phallus [. . .]they get the idea or sense that there must be a jouissance 
that is beyond" (Fink 74-76). 

by the masculine, in keeping with his conviction that any experience is an 

experience of or through already phallic language. 

Au-dela also sustains the discourses on the mystic that de Beauvoir taps, 

through Lacan's own figure of the mystic: I'au-dela denotes the religious sense of 

"the beyond," the afterlife. With par-dela de Beauvoir projects a stable "there" 

which something exists "by," outside. Lacan, rather, presents that outside as a 

constantly receding masculine horizon toward which feminine puissance 

continually falls. The one continually refigures the other, mamtaining a tension 

without reduction to dialectical synthesis. Whether "puissance, qua sexual, is 

phallic," Lacan nevertheless insists on something that exceeds or escapes that 

system's soi-disant inevitability. 

Yet Lacan is neither so careless or so idealistic that he does not recognize 

an inherent problem with conceptions of puissance. At the same moment that 

Lacan advocates such a puissance, he also warns of a possible danger. As 

Ragland-Sullivan insists, "Lacan has taught that one cannot overthrow the 

phallic order without paying the price demanded by that order: a social rejection 

that ranges from mild disapproval to imprisonment or incarceration in an 

asylum for the mentally ill" (304). Jouissance, marked by phallic discourse, serves 

equally as the kind of antithetical element to which Fanon decried Sartre having 

reduced race. Even its senses of excess are susceptible to cooption. Grosz posits 

the reinscriptive use to which puissance is put against itself: "[i]f Lacan eulogizes 

the puissance of St. Teresa, it is because this fantasy of a simultaneously phallic 

and 'supplementary' puissance 'beyond the phallus' reconfirms the phallus as the 

fixed reference point" (Grosz 175). The puissance that Lacan projects "out there," 

while ostensibly feminine, is still, etymologically, threatened with masculine 

reappropriation. Lacan implies not so much a simplistic foreclosure of feminine 

agency, but rather an infinitely more complex tension between the feminine and 

masculine within which the mystic experiences, knows, and represents her own 

knowledge of the contradiction between her experience and the masculine 

rubrics of knowledge that determine her language. 

Thereby, the phallic economy enters itself to police itself, not to mute 
contrary or subversive speech, but rather to appropriate it, as antithesis, to 
repressive ends. "[T]he best thing you can read" becomes (in the ironic sense of 
"best") that which is permissible, that by which the Same inoculates itself from 
difference. Such tactics constitute the reappropriability of puissance that Zizek 
and others decry, but which both Lacan's continual admission oijouisant excess 
seeks to subvert. In this particular conviction, Lacan's suggestions differ from de 
Beauvoir and Fanon's investment in active existential realization. The aunts in 
Cisneros' The House on Mango Street seem aware of puissant excess' continual 
resistance to appropriation. They themselves place Esperanza in the excessive 
position, advocating her as the element that can escape and return at will. 
Esperanza, at that point, is still young enough to develop a resiliency to 
ideological mystification, the narrator of Obejas' short story also enacts a kynical 
strategy of representation of not only her knowledge of her experience, but also 
of the experience of that knowledge. As we will also see in Chapter Six with 
Walker's characters, each negotiates ideology through the excess of puissance, 
reconfiguring the foreclosures other wise threatened by ideology into a field of 
continual mediation and disruption. 

Despite Grosz's certitude of phallic recentering in Lacan, puissance as 
excess still resists total reabsorption into the dominant, the Same. The very 
supplementarity of puissance gives the lie to phallic claims to plenitude and 
centrality. Lacan illustrates just this point, as do the literary characters and 
theoretical figures I have to now discussed, as a matter of representation. At this 
point, Lacan's text produces its most notorious statement:"[Y]ou only have to go 
look at Bernini's statue in Rome to understand immediately that [St. Teresa's] 

coming, there is no doubt about it. And what is her puissance, her coming from? 

It is clear that they [mystics, women] are experiencing it but know nothing about 

it" (FS147). Enough commentary already abounds concerning the centrality of 

the female body to such an experience, and to its conceptualization. I will attend 

this issue below in terms of Irigaray. For the moment, I wish to attend the 

undervalued element of representation in both Lacan's comment here and in 

critiques of it. 

Lacan's statement does not totally dismiss all possibility for articulation 

The sound permitted the mystic {\iv) is "slight" but it is there. The problem is, 

again, the mediation of utterance. Lacan proposes for the mystic an utterance 

divorced from that which inspires or incites it: "It is clear that the essential 

testimony of the mystics is that they are experiencing it [presumably, puissance] 

but know nothing about it" (JjS_ 147 emphasis mine). What is the "essential 

testimony" [le temoinage essentiel] to which Lacan refers — the moan, or its later 

textual representation? Lacan's text itself here becomes ambivalent: "These 

mystical ejaculations are neither idle gossip nor mere verbiage, in fact they are 

the best thing you can read" (F_S_ 147). Contextually, "jaculations" [sic] 8 could 

refer to either the moan or to its textual representation. Whether Lacan here 

deliberately or erroneously conflates the mystics' "jaculation" and their texts, 

the point is that, even in their own accounts, we do not read the mystics' 

"jaculations," but only the later narratives built around those jaculations, those 

moans, which themselves remain unrepresentable. Lacan seems to miss that we 

never receive the moan, the jaculation — not in mystics' books or diaries, not in 

Bernini's tableau. In effect, even St. Teresa only tells us about them, by later 

representation. By turning to Bernini's statue, Lacan indicates that St. Teresa's 

own texts, as representations, are of little different order than Bernini's. In terms 

* In the French edition of Seminaire XX: Encore the term is "jaculations." Fink's translation 
maintains this term, while Rose changes it to "ejaculations." Removing the the e- not only 
degenders the term, or distances it from reductive biology, but also foregrounds the status of the 
ek- for Lacan's discussion of ek-stasis a few paragraphs later. 

of representation, the former is separated from the latter by only one degree of 

distance from and abstraction of the event it describes. This ambivalence would 
indicate why Lacan directs us to an eye that looks at Bernini's tableau rather than 
an eye that reads St. Teresa's own texts. 

Much critique of this particular statement in Lacan posits that the sexuality 
Lacan describes is irretrievable from phallocentrism: the statue is made by a male 
(Bernini), the scene of St. Theresa's ecstasy is viewed by sculpted male cardinals 
in their marbled balconies, and the ensemble is viewed by another male (Lacan) 
who subsequently uses it as a reference in a talk to still other males (the audience 
addressed in Encore) about feminine sexuality. What Lacan does not give, such 
critiques declare, is St. Teresa herself. Lacan provides his mediated impression of 
a Baroque counter-Reformation construction of a sculptor's impression of St. 
Teresa, derived from St. Teresa's own diaries. For all the stone and all the ink 
expended by these men, St. Teresa herself is, at the moment described by Lacan, 
mute only insofar as the sense that we don't get her "voice." But such a stance is 
particularly ambivalent. At work here is the effect of trope, which as Spivak 
notes is "the irreducible turn of figuration that is the condition of (im)-possibility 
of any redemption of voice" (IOW 123). We no more get St. Teresa's voice in her 
own texts than we get Lacan's in the text of his seminar lectures. We receive a 
narrative which we invest with the authority of the signor. Even before we reach 
Spivak's own representation of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, we may already state 
that we have never not been dealing with representation. The "voice" and 
"experience" so assiduously invoked by critiques of de Beauvoir, Lacan, and 
Irigaray were always in excess, jouissant — they escaped, and were only later 
themselves represented. 

Despite Lacan's own apparent incognizance of it, and Lacan critics missing 
it, we can derive from Lacan's seminar on the mystic a complex discussion of 
representation and its relation to puissance. 

If Lacan's interrogation is directed to a man's stone representation of a 
woman, i.e., to Bernini's representation of St. Teresa, it is not surprising 
'she' has nothing to say! But if Lacan had looked at her own words (she was 
a prolific diarist and and writer), he may have heard something quite 
different — the 'corporeal' language of hysteria, not the jouissant 
experience of unspeakable intensity" (Tacques Lacan 146 emphasis mine) 

By this statement Elizabeth Grosz effects her own kind of ideological 
mystification. She bases an appeal to the material through the textual, without 
sufficient attention to the textual basis of her materialist argument. Grosz 
invokes a referent divorced from its signifiers, and asks readers to follow suit. 
Such arguments overlook that Lacan would have to read [look at] St. Teresa's 
text because that is all there is of her moan: her representation of the moan and of 
her knowledge of the experience of which the moan is a part. There is literally 
nothing to "hear" because all St. Teresa herself can provide is a representation of 
her moan and of her knowledge of its experience. In this case, Grosz 
underestimates not only the potential for Lacan's implicit commentary on 
representation. Her argument also underestimates the dual elements of 
textuality and representation at work in the very texts she appeals to. 

Amy Hollywood critiques de Beauvoir and Irigaray's use of St. Teresa as a 
trope along lines similar to Grosz's: "Beauvoir's and Irigaray's knowledge of 
mystical texts is limited and essentializing; both extrapolate a general figure, 'the 
mystic,' from a small corpus of medieval and early modern texts" (160). 
Hollywood here critiques the ironic gesture she notes in de Beauvoir and 
Irigaray (and by implication Lacan) who, having declared the singularity and 
irreducibility of the individual subject (Lacan's "there is no the woman"), 
nevertheless generalize the mystic. I address this matter below in my discussion 
of Irigaray. For now, what Hollywood and others miss in their denunciations of 
de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray and the use they make of the mystic trope, is 
that even St. Teresa provides only a later narrative, a post-facto representation, 
of the mystical moment of her ecstasy. St. Teresa does not— indeed cannot— give 


us the moan itself, but only her later narrative of it. To counterclaim that she 
could not give the moan itself since she was busy having the experience and 
moaning the moan at the time would also miss the point. The experience that 
elicits the moan and of which the moan becomes a part, is unrepresentable. 

Arguments such as Grosz and Hollywood's, based in claims to the mystic- 
referent, themselves evince particular ideological investments. They validate the 
materiality of the female mystics themselves, when even those female mystics 
only ever gave text and textuality. Arguments that insist that mystics' texts be 
"restored," "reclaimed" or, curiously, "represented" in texts about the mystic as 
trope, which seek to "give the voice back to" the mystic, effect an ambivalence. 
As Trinh Minh-ha suggests in an analogous context, attempts to authenticate a 
discourse through calls for the referent reveal an ambivalent politics: "Factual 
authenticity relies heavily on the Other's words and testimony. To authenticate a 
work, it becomes therefore most important to prove or make evident how this 
Other has participated in his/her own image [. . . t]his is often called 'giving 
voice"' (66-67). The "voices" sought for reclamation themselves evince little but 
representations of past events. By treating mystics' texts as those mystics' 
"voices," such arguments ascribe a materiality or material value to those texts, 
and thereby evince the falsity of the text-material divide. Grosz further claims 

If he has succeeded in describing women's containment in men's 
fantasies, Lacan has left no room for the representation of women in 
other, more autonomous, terms. If he places this pleasure beyond the 
phallus and thus beyond representation, this is because the symbolic 
linguistic structure he describes is restricted to those dominant discourses 
and systems which accede women no place of their own. There are, there 
must be, other discourses and forms of possible representation capable of 
speaking of/ as woman differently. (lacques Lacan l46) 

Lacan's text agrees with Grosz's advocation of "other discourses," and indeed 
the latter portion of "God and Woman 's puissance " points in this direction His 
text also agrees that "the symbolic linguistic structure he describes is restricted to 

those dominant discourses and systems which accede women no place of their 

own." Yet Grosz's argument insufficiently attends the very dynamic of 

representation that she invokes in the quotation's initial phrase. By projecting a 

beyond [au-dela] to jouissance, Lacan indeed considers not only "representation 

of women in other, more autonomous, terms." He also foregrounds the dangers 

faced by women's mediation of the relation between knowledge and experience 

by representation and jouissance. It becomes a mater of mediation between "the 

'corporeal' language of hysteria" and "the puissant experience of unspeakable 


What does get represented is the knowledge that the mystic has of her 
experience, and her reciprocal experience of that knowledge. Mystics' texts 
testify to and articulate, represent, this latter experience. Yet according to the 
phallic schema that Lacan details, this phenomenon supposedly cannot happen, 
given the extant overdetermining phallic rubrics in play. Esperanza Cordero in 
The House on Mango Street looks later to represent her rape, but cannot; instead 
she represents the event-horizon around the traumatic event, and displaces, 
even apparently at that moment, her representation onto the ideological 
apparatus (i.e. Sally) who lead her to that event horizon. One can quote St. 
Teresa all one wants; even then, such quotations do not present the St. Teresa 
that critiques such as Hollywood or Grosz's call for. St. Teresa, Bernini, and 
Lacan's texts have always been about representation, whether they so declared. 

How to represent that experience which is unrepresentable? If it is 
unrepresentable, then is it knowable? Frederic Jameson, for one, has already 
answered this question in the affirmative (Postmodernism 53). But Lacan's point 
is about the very language through which we could know that experience. That 
language itself is overdetermined, phallically gendered, so that the very means 
by which we could come to such a knowledge are themselves determined. Thus 
there can be no knowledge if the language cannot accommodate it — unless there 

is something else, a beyond (au-dela) to the episteme and its rubrics. Not outside 

experience per se, but beyond the capacity or ability for that language to 
articulate it and thereby to formulate a knowledge of it. 

Lacan projects the possibility of such a beyond, but avers that it is 
impossible for " woman " to realize it either existentially or generically from 
within those rubrics. Cisneros and Obejas, as we have seen, as well as Spivak 
and Walker in the next chapters, indicate that subjects can articulate such- 
knowledge, by specific strategic and tactical manipulations of extant systems of 
representation. The very field of representation at issue is that which 
simultaneously forecloses articulation and knowledge, but also makes it possible 
to mediate that foreclosure by using the elements of the system in ways that do 
not adhere to that system's logic. (The narrator Esperanza Cordero in Chapter 1 
becomes just such a radical example, by mediating the disjuncture that her rape 
effects through her manipulation of the representative elements and strategies 
surrounding the event, and her representation of her knowledge of her 
experience to herself and to others). 

"Beyond Any Other Feeling:" Irigaray 

Luce Irigaray' s work with the trope of the female mystic works through 
just such questions of representation, experience, knowledge, language and 
overdetermination. She also posits a beyond that exceeds phallic language. Yet 
rather than suggesting a knowledge of that experience-beyond through 
overdetermined phallic language, Irigaray posits instead a deliberate and 
conscious manipulation of the silence to which phallic language consigns the 
feminine as a means to engage and protect that jouissant experience. Lacan's 
calculus glosses over this particular silencing, which is distinct from the iterative 
lacuna that jouissant experience poses within phallic discourse. Irigaray poses 
such a silence not as a situational result of women's experience as inarticulable 
through phallic language. Instead, she posits such a silence as the dismissal of an 

experience whose value has been refuted beforehand — not a silence, but a 


Irigaray thereby posits a double strategy through the mystic trope. 

Mystics either mimic the theological language and modes of phallic religious 

institutions and traditions, thereby revealing that language's limits, or they 

deploy by mimicry the silence to which phallic epistemologies already consign 

their experience, and thus construct their lives unspeakingly — but not, as evinced 

by the confessional and the analyst's couch, unassailed. By active mimicry that 

either reveals phallic discourse's scotomae or that deliberately adopts presumed 

silences, Irigaray's mystic trope presents a contradiction between knowledge, 

experience, and doing that resists and subverts that of ideological mystification. I 

do indeed know what I experience and that I experience it, the mystic in 

Irigaray's texts seems to say, but my linguistic actions either indicate the holes in 

that same phallic language, or pretend to the disjuncture between my experience 

and my knowledge of it through language that that language already 


While I focus mainly on her passage "La Mysterique" in Speculum. 

Irigaray returns to her discussion of the mystic in This Sex Which Is Not One and 

Sexes and Genealogies. 9 1 discuss all three works, although not always in 

chronological order. Also, several commentators on Irigaray's mystics 

(Hollywood and Berry to start) focus on either Irigaray's dismissal of historical 

mystics in favor of a generic "mystic," or, in contrast, on the specific historical 

mystics that infuse her text. 10 Within the scope of my present project, I am not 

interested in either of these discourses. My focus is specifically on the figure of 

' I cite those works as follows. Speculum d e l'autre femme I cite as (Speculum): Gillian C. Gill's 
English translation I cite as (S_). I note in my text when I have provided my own translations. 
Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un T cite as (££); Catherine Porter's translation This Sex Which Is Not 
Qua I cite as I cite as TS. I cite Sexes and Genealogies as S&G. 

10 In a variation, Toril Moi complains that "the material conditions of women's oppression are 
spectacularly absent from [Irigaray's] work" (Sexual/Textual Politics 147) 

the female mystic as figure, whether generic, that develops through de Beauvoir, 

Lacan, and Irigaray and finds analogy with Fanon's raced colonial and Spivak's 

female subaltern, as a trope for a particular relation to and paradoxical mediation 

of ideological mystifications between knowledge, action, and experience. 

Language, Hysteria, Alienation 

Lacan's "God and Woman 's puissance" explicitly responds to the mystic 
passages of Simone de Beau voir' s The Second Sex: Irigaray responds to de 
Beauvoir through her response to Lacan. 11 Irigaray's figuration of the mystic also 
responds to the element of contradiction central to the Marxist concept of 
ideology. Irigaray agrees with de Beauvoir insofar as women's strive to achieve 
the "supreme source of value" without mediation by the masculinist system that 
defines woman as "mystery /other." Irigaray disagrees with de Beauvoir' s 
mascsuline-active model of existential "freedom," however, and agrees with 
Lacan insofar as he proposes that women cannot know their own puissance as 
excess within the overdetermined masculist sexual economy that linguistically 
figures and symbolically represents her as "mystic/ other." Irigaray disagrees 
with Lacan leaving women there, and avers rather that women know very well 
what they experience. Women can use their knowledge to mimic what the 
masculine order already projects on them in order to subvert and eventually 
"exit" that that order's system of valuation. 

Like Lacan, Irigaray notes the intersection of the mystic and the political: 
"Certain women mystics have been among those rare women to achieve real 
social influence, notably in politics" (S&C 63). This echo of Lacan is no more a 

11 By as late as 1995 Irigaray confessed to much less familiarity with The Second Sex than most 

commentators suppose, as Irigaray clarifies: 

I don't know her work that well [. . . c.1993;] I tried, for the sake of my students, to take 
another look at The Second Sex: in fact, I read it in 1952 and read only the introduction 
and a little of the first chapter, but this is not at all the source of my work. [. . .] I'm not 
saying that Simone de Beauvoir isn't part of that tradition, but hers isn't an oeuvre 
that I know well nor to which I myself especially refer. It's possible that I've been 
influenced by her work by means of the ideological climate (Hirsch and Olson 113-114, 
ellipses mine). 

simple recapitulation than is Lacan's refiguring of Marx's formula of ideology. 

Lacan himself apparently responds to de Beauvoir' s model of the mystic as a 

masculine-active subject. Irigaray in turn responds to both Lacan and de 

Beauvoir, but also alludes to politics in sexual as well as generic terms, as a 

synonym for economy. As Amy Hollywood 12 puts it, "[t]he 'mystics' serve as 

emblematic and problematic in different ways for Beauvoir and Irigaray. 

Beauvoir rejects their path because she does not 'believe' in their transcendence, 

whereas for Irigaray it is not enough insofar as it leaves political and social 

structures of oppression unchallenged" (Hollywood 179 n.17). 

Irigaray's formulation of the mystic falls between by her earlier work 

with language and dementia in Langage des dements, and her later comments on 

hysterics' language in This Sex : 

Does the hysteric speak? Isn't hysteria a privileged place for 
preserving — but 'in latency/ 'in suffrance' — that which does not speak? [. . 
. Hysteria] speaks in the mode of a paralyzed gestural faculty, of an 
impossible and also a forbidden speech ... It speaks as symptoms of an 'it 
can't speak to or about itself' [. . . One] may raise the question whether 
psychoanalysis has not superimposed on the hysterical symptom a code, a 
system of interpretation(s) which fails to correspond to the desire fixed in 
somatizations and silence. QS 136-37) 

As Dianne Chisholm suggests, the voice Irigaray propounds "is a display of that 
which cannot be articulated, not for lack of a language but because of the 
imposition of a linguistic code that subjects every language user to the same 
phallic norms, denying women all but phallic or negative sexual self- 
representation" (Chisholm 272). "Mystic" becomes a name that (masculine) 
Consciousness imposes to name the place where "consciousness is no longer 

12 Amy Hollywood herself cites several brief discussions of de Beauvoir and Irigaray's 
respective em- /deployment of the female mystic figure: Anna Antonopoulos, "Writing the 
Mystic Body: Sexuality and Textuality in the Venture feminine of Saint Catherine of Genoa"; 
Elizabeth Robertson, Early English Devotion al Prose and the Female Audience: Kathryn Bond 
Stockton, " 'God' Between Their Lips : Desire Between Women in Irigaray and Eliot" and 
"Bodies and God: Poststructuralist Feminism Returns to the Fold of Spiritual Materialism." 
None of these pieces, however, treats the female mystic in relation to explicit formulations of 
"ideology." For an (albeit reductive) discussion of "postmodern" readings of the Euro-Christian 
mystics, see Don Cupitt, Mysticism After Modernity (q.v. throughout my text here). 

master" (S 191). Mystery and the mystic become designations for what gets 

dismissed or ignored (£192). 

Yet in Irigaray's use, "mystic" includes more beyond these terms. 

Working not only in response to Lacan and de Beauvoir, but also to Bataille, and 

the long and variegated traditions of Euro-Christian mysticism, for Irigaray 

these terms designate 

a place of dissent and dissolution with respect to the patriarchal order of 
the social and the symbolic. [. . .] Through the title "La mystenque," 
woman's position of mimicry, characteristic of hysterical discourse, is 
redefined and celebrated as positive [. . .] The economy of hysteria runs 
through [Speculum] and cannot be simply equated to some facile 
psychoanalytic interpretation of sexually traumatized and repressed 
women. [. . .] Naturally for Irigaray it is not a question of advocating 
hysteria as a viable means of rebelling against patriarchal 
(mis)representations — a self-defeating strategy that an analyst could 
hardly endorse. Rather, she takes up a critical modality that could be 
described as 'positionally' analogous to that of the hysteric. (Mazzoni 150- 

Mystery and hysteria, as we will see, become only alternate forms of knowledge 
and means of self-representation, which Irigaray poses as resistant to phallic 

Ideology and Alienation 
Irigaray reformulates Sartre's proposal that "a man does not lie about 
what he is in ignorance of" because one is always in "possession of the truth 
which he is hiding" (B_N 48). As she says, first invoking St. Teresa but then 
speaking more generally, "she had always been herself, though she did not 
know it. And she will never know it or herself clearly as she takes fire, in a sweet 
confusion whose source cannot at first be apprehended" (£ 193). Irigaray posits 
that women always had subjectivity, but did not know it. De Beauvoir would 
condemn such a situation as bad faith; Lacan would attribute it to 
overdetermination by phallic language. Irigaray's proposal that women should 
deliberately mimic the phallic economy's expected image of them to subvert that 
economy and its scopophillic epistemologies turns existentialist "bad faith" inside 

out, since women would already possess the "truth" that phallic sexuality would 

hide from them and manipulate their reflection of that truth, misrepresent that 

truth to its very source. She maintains that the existential belief in individuals as 

potential subjects, but in the place of bad faith Irigaray posits women's (and 

men's) interpellation by masculist ideology and phallic language. If language is 

the matter of thought, and we are born into language, then it is impossible not to 

begin as determined. Yet by the example of mystical ecstasy, irigaray indicates 

that it is possible to know "beyond" masculine discourse. And it is not an 

experience that simply "happens," but rather something that women go looking 


Contra Freud and through his own texts, Irigaray avers that the little girl 

is indeed aware of her vagina — so she knows what she experiences and that she 

experiences it, but strapped by masculine system of language and valuation she 

cannot articulate either (Assiter 100). Rather than reinscribing the 

science /revelation dichotomy, Irigaray avers not only alternate forms of 

"knowledge," but also different concepts of what "knowledge" comprises. The 

groupings "science-philosophy" and "ecstacy-revelation" posit variant 

understandings of "knowledge" more analogous than oppositional." As Assiter 


[f]or Irigaray to say that women are associated with the unconscious and 
unreason [. . .] is to say that women somehow have access to a 'truth' 
which is closed to men. However, unlike men, women [for Irigaray] do 
not have any illusion that self certainty is possible. Rather the 
"knowledge" they have is of a different order. But what can we say about 
this "knowledge," about women's "experience." (98) 

Irigaray explicitly describes the overdeterminations within which the 
mystic not only experiences her puissance, but also struggles to come to know it: 
"she is already caught, enveloped in various representations [. . .] she is less able 
to read the inscription [of the ecstasy upon her], poorer in language, 'crazier' in 

13 Assiter avers that this constitutes a false dichotomy anyway, particularly between Derrida 
and Lacan (97-98). 

her speech, burdened with matter(s) that history has laid on her, shackled in/by 

speculative plans that paralyze her desire" (£ 192, 198). Having experienced not 
only her puissance but also the contradiction it poses to her knowledge, based on 
phallic discourses of representation, Irigaray's mystic remains alienated from not 
only the phallic world surrounding her, but also from herself: "she is still in 
darkness to herself through and through, nor does she understand the world 
surrounding her" (£ 198). In trying to deal with her experience that exceeds the 
lingual and epistemic bounds of phallic discourse, which she experiences as 
ideological disjuncture, she becomes an object of horrific fascination to male the 
very male intermediaries whom de Beauvoir vilified: analysts and priests. The 
mystic and the experience that so named her remain continually threatened with 
reappropriation by phallic epistemic authority ass antithetical confirmation. Thus, 
as we will see, Irigaray later posits the mysterique as trapped in the disjuncture 
between phallic knowledge and her extraphallic experience by the 
psychoanalytic discourses that supposedly seek to help her: "she will not say 
what she herself wants; moreover, she does not know, or no longer knows, 
what she wants" QS 25). The muteness that Irigaray will aver derives from her 
conviction that, besides hex puissance, the mysterique also experiences an 
alienation that surpasses even bad faith: "all this the feminine keeps secret. 
Without knowing it" (JJS 27). 

Jouissance and Representation 
In response to Lacan's formula of "a puissance proper to her and of which 
she may know nothing, except that she experiences it,"Irigaray insists that 
women do indeed experience puissa nee as excess, they know they experience it, 
and they know what they experience. Women then articulate that experience in 
language specific to women. (At this point Irigaray's texts become ambivalent 
vis-a-vis the feminine, since she also describes "feminine" as simultaneously that 
which opposes "masculine" as a construct, but which also, because already 

scripted and projected by phallic discourses, women could mimic. Else, women 

can resort to silence so as to circumvent patriarchy.) The difference lies in 

Irigaray's maintaining that women deliberately "keep quiet" — in both senses of 

keeping their knowledge a secret and of speaking quietly. 

Irigaray seeks thereby to subvert de Beauvoir's (reinscriptive) masculist 

economy of action and articulation by blurring not the boundaries between the 

two but the gendering of the two. She promotes feminized manifestations of 

(in)articulance, or "different" articulance, that, but for its very subversive quality, 

would otherwise constitute a positive masculinized action. Of course, Irigaray 

maintains that this is not by any means an easy task. Irigaray seems to advocate 

instead an active passivity, a refolding of the phallic system into itself by its own 

terms to reveal not a new or "other" space but rather one that had always been 

there, or whose potential had always been there, but could not be known or 

valued within phallic language. 

Within this perspective, God, as that which is not-in-the-world, as de 

Beauvoir's "supreme source of value" which the mystic seeks beyond mediation, 

becomes analogous to puissance in terms of unrepresentabilty: "For 'God' 

exceeds all representation." 14 "God" becomes another way to think of that which 

phallic rubrics of representation cannot accommodate, or which it forecloses. 

Jouissance and God become those knowable experiences for which there is no 

appropriate signifier, and before which phallic signification itself falls 

momentarily mute, although later producing a stream of inadequate and 

reinscriptive representations. Irigaray's text here carefully posits jouissance not as 

transcendence, which would drop jouissance back into existential dialectics and de 

Beauvoir's masculism, but as excess. As she puts it, "[t]o go there [i.e. to pursue 

the jouissance that the mysti c intuits] is to go to excess (£ 192). She posits jouissance 
14 My translation of "Car «Dieu» excede toute representation" (Speculum 2461 Gill's 
translation renders "excede toute representation" as "goes beyond all representation" (S_ 197). 
While "goes beyond" fits the context of the English translation, which also renders "par- 
dessus" ("on top, over the top") as "beyond," "exceeds" keeps with the French texf s association 
of God with jouissance as a matter of knowledge through phallic rubrics of representation. 

as both remainder, and as excess (£ 193). Mystery, mysticism, the mystic, excess, 

ecstacy — ek-stasis as Irigaray also reminds us — all imply something outside the 

self-Same's realm of comprehension, that exceeds stasis, mundum, oiKou(xeve, the 

"world" as circumscribed by phallic language. 

Rather than evincing a facile idealism, however, Irigaray's project 
acknowledges the reciprocal possibility of puissance's reappropriation. 
Analogous to Lacan's earlier insistence that within phallic rubrics "puissance, qua 
sexual, is phallic," in a later interview Irigaray opines that "[t]he jouissance they 
[men] talk about today is in fact capitalist" (Irigaray Reader 49). It is the 
phallically-overdetermined sense of jouissance which it is necessary to think 
beyond. "La Mysterique" complains of reappropriative men "claiming to find 
puissance as 'she' does,"(£ 192). This statement itself indicates the reciprocal 
intereferences that puissance and its reappropriations effect on each other, as the 
one works to exceed and the other works to reinscribe: grammatically, "she" 
indicates simultaneously the mystic, and Consciousness as posited by phallic 
epistemology. As Catherine Clement posits in a similar context,"we can 
understand how men could have wanted to make tears come out of women's 
eyes; we understand that the refusal to emit seems a crime to them. Not to cry: 
refuse puissance, refuse to emit the precious secretions that are partial objects for 
the other's desire" (35). Clement analogously cites a specifically masculine 
concept of puissance imposed on women, which results in a double alienation: 
not only are women cut off from their own puissance, but they have another 
thrust upon them, which they refuse at their peril. 15 

Yet the mystic eschews representation of her knowledge of her 
experience only to others. Irigaray's sexed gesture: she still posits her mystic 

15 Oddly, this element of torture and extraction is missing from any of Irigaray's writing on the 
mystic. She presents confessor-analysts intently but mildly questioning the post-ecstatic mystic, 
but never touches on the brutalities that Clement and Helene Cixous describe in The Newly 
Born Woman, or that Clement and Julia Kristeva discuss in Women and the Sacred. This lacuna 
is perhaps an example of Toril Moi's critique of Irigaray: "the material conditions of women's 
oppression are spectacularly absent from [Irigaray's] work: (Sexual /Textual Politics 147). 

figure representing her own knowledge of her experience to herself in religious 

imagery. Irigaray's mystic still creates a narrative of her experience, which forms 

her knowledge of that experience. Such a tactics of representation remains 

ambivalent. As we have seen elsewhere, even this jouissant 

representation — jouissant because it evinces a knowledge and experience that 

exceeds phallic language — threatens reinscription. Not in terms of her 

confession: de Beauvoir has shown already that such would constitute an act of 

bad faith by representing to confessor-analysts what they already anticipate, or 

what will antithetically reaffirm their convictions. 16 Rather, the mystic's narrative 

threatens reinscription because it is narrative. This point does not guarantee 

reappropriation, but certainly threatens it. It is the very jouissant element within 

the representation that maintains the tension between resistance and 

reinscription. 17 

Distinctions such as Fredric Jameson's between the unknowable and the 

unrepresentable help explain Irigaray's revisioning and reworking of Lacan's 

"not-know/ experience" thesis in Seminaire XX and de Beauvoir's proposals in 

The Second Sex . Elizabeth Grosz avers that unlike Lacan, Irigaray 

makes clear that if this jouissance is 'beyond the phallus' it is not, for that 
matter, unsignifiable. [In this, Grosz agrees with Fredric Jameson that the 
"unknowable" is not "unrepresentable."] This is not a jouissance that 
woman cannot know or say; rather, it is a jouissance that Lacan cannot hear 
for he doesn't know how, or even where, to listen. The valorization of 
certain modes of representation, the fantasy of an-other subject like the 
self-same — woman as the incoherent or silent counterpart of man — and 
the disavowal of his own position as listener makes the male interlocutor 
unable to hear other than what he wishes to hear. (Tacques Lacan 175) 

I disagree with Grosz insofar as I have already shown that his very language 

16 See also Foucaulf s discussion of confession as both liberatory and reinscriptive, in Discipline 
and Punish. 

17 A curious point arises here, given Hollywood and Grosz's critiques of Irigaray's use of the 
mystic trope as robbing historical referents' voices. Translator Gillian C. Gill, in her footnote to 
the penultimate paragraph of "La Mystenque," includes the famous passage of the ecstasy 
from St. Teresa's own journals. Yet Gill does not quote St. Teresa herself, directly. Instead, she 
cites Victoria Sackville- West's quotation of an english translation of St. Teresa's writing 

evinces a perceptive awareness of the matters at issue. Nor do I think that 

Irigaray takes Lacan that simplistically. Although Lacan's female mystic may 

"know" only that she "experiences" her puissance but remains alienated from it 

by phallic language, Irigaray not only finds phallogocentric discourse insufficient 

to articulate/ represent that experience of puissance (as does de Beauvoir). She 

not only agrees that the experience of puissance corroborates puissance's 

denotation as "beyond" the discourse of phallic sexuality. She also implies that 

the fault lies, in part, in trying to represent it at all, since (for her, here) 

representation immediately enters puissance into an economy of sameness — why 

she avers mimicry as a subversive tactic of that very representational order. 

Speculum addresses representation from its opening pages. Irigaray notes 

the peculiar representative importance placed on women as unwatchable 

figuration of death in Freud: "She will also be the representative-representation 

{Vorstellung-Reprasentanz), in other words, of the death drives that cannot (or 

theoretically could not) be perceived without horror, that the eye (of) 

consciousness refuses to recognize" (Speculum 55) 18 . Philippa Berry notes the 

element of negative theology on Irigaray's figuration of the female mystic, 

"which placed 'God' outside of all representations"(241). Hence the mysterique 

that Irigaray posits "is positioned outside or to the side of straightforward 

representation" (Berry 241) — Irigaray's inclusion of both de Beauvoir's par-dela 

and Lacan's au-dela senses of "beyond." As Judith Butler explains, 

[i]n opposition to de Beauvoir, for whom women are designated as the 
Other, Irigaray argues that both the subject and the Other are masculine 
mainstays of a closed phallogocentric signifying economy that achieves its 
totalizing goal through the exclusion of the feminine altogether [. . .] 
Women are not only represented falsely within the Sartrian frame of 
signifying-subject and signified-Other, but the falsity of the signification 
points out the entire structure of representation as inadequate. (GT 14) 

Irigaray herself puts it in This Sex W hich Is Not One (speaking of Speculum) . 

18 «EUe sera le representant-representation (Vorstellung-Reprasentanz) aussi, autrement dit, 
des pulsions de mort qu'on n'apercevra(it) pas sans horreur, que l'oeil (de la) conscience se refuse 
a reconnaftre» (Speculum 631 

"what is important is to disconcert the staging of a representation according to 

exclusively masculine parameters" (68). Irigaray not only calls for a disruption of 

staging of masculine-dictated representation, but also effects such performatively 

through her texts. Mysticism has thus ever been a matter concerned with 


Jouissance and Value 

In herself mimicking the discourse of the mystic, Irigaray describes the 

ecstatic experience in terms that indicate the sexuated politics of value that 

underlay the mystic's (religious) relation to phallic economies: 

Nothing has a price in his divine consummation and consumption. 
Nothing has value, not even the soul herself, set apart from 
standardization, outside the labor market. The soul spends and is spent in 
the margins of capital. In a strictly non-negotiable currency, an 
expenditure without accountability, in the resources of its loss. (S 195) 

Here, Irigaray puts the non-knowledge thesis of mysticism and the loss of 
subjectivity in the collectivity of God in explicitly economic terms. So, too, is de 
Beauvoir's "supreme source of value": Irigaray proposes a canceling, negating, 
mitigation of mystification. Such a union proposes not so much a loss of self as a 
loss of the "self-as-same" imposed by phallic language(£ 195). It is the loss of one 
sense of self, and the almost existential realization of another, "true" self. This 
self, Irigaray implies, was always there, and remained as a kind of echo of 
unfulfilled potentiality. 

In this scenario Irigaray describes the moment of mystical ecstasy as an 
experience of a different value, or a different experience of value. The experience 
"sweeps over the T in an excess of excess" (£ 195). In the wake of mystical 
ecstacy — which is not only sexual, but an experience of value through the 
body — woman has become a mystic through her experience. Having sought 
what "remains to be said," she feels empty, and no representation derived from 
phallic economy will suffice now that she has experienced other- value. "No 
image, no figure alleviates such mortal absence. No picture, no portrait, no 

face"(S 195). At this point, the original French text implies that the mystic is left 

"without voice to call" 19 (S 195). 

The experience reveals to her the insufficiency, not of representation tout 
court, but of representation based on phallic rubrics of value. The "self" she finds 
thus exceeds what can be contained within phallic representation: "Finding the 
self imposes a proximity that knows no aspect, mode, or figure. No metaphors 
can designate the radiant splendor of that touch. Any intermediary would risk 
deferring the fleeting moment of its coming" (£195). Irigaray thus eschews 
intermediaries as did de Beauvoir. The puissance the mystic experiences awakens 
her to her own puissance. 

Having experienced this event, one cannot return to one's previous 
knowledge. Irigaray explicitly links this experience to knowledge and the female 
body: "All-encompassing immediacy is imposed by this hymen of the 
unknowable" [Immediatete du tout impose dans cette hymen de I'inconnaissable 
translation mine]. Apart from the phrase's obvious adherence to the rite of 
marriage to or union with the divine, the invocation of the hymen is explicit — it 
remains unbroken yet porous, membranous, and the experience of that which is 
unknowable in phallic terms passes through. Irigaray phrases such an experience 
n terms analogous to de Beauvoir's realization out of bad faith: "For this most 
secret virginity of the 'soul' surrenders only to one who also freely offers the self 
in all its nakedness" (£196). 

Outside, Beyond, Before 

Yet the realizations of Irigaray's mystics also posit a kind of unforgetting, 
an avanveoig, of that which always already was, but that ideology had mystified 
by imposing an interference-field between knowledge and experience. "What if 
matter had always, already, had a part," Irigaray asks, " but was yet invisible, 
beyond the senses, moving in ways alien to any fixed reflection" (£ 197). 

«Sans voix pour appeler» (Speculum 243). 

Mystification here comes into its double, paradoxical sense: that which is 

obscured, yet that which is also capable of being revealed. With only the thinnest 

allusion to pre-Oedipal states of consciousness, Lacanian or otherwise, Irigaray 

proposes an experience that taps something, if not prior to, or outside of, then at 

least exceeds irretrievable reclamation from ideological mystification. 

As Amy Hollywood notes, "both Beauvoir and Irigaray disrupt the 
picture of the mystic as body, Beauvoir through saying that the mystic causes the 
bodily marks and Irigaray through her disruption of the boundaries between 
inside and outside" (179 n.ll). Working partly through Lacan's concept of the 
Symbolic Order, Irigaray indicates that the "elsewhere" to escape to is already 
"there." It had always been there, but was just not visible to the masculine- 
determined gaze in the same way that the masculme-determined ear cannot 
understand, or does not wish to hear, feminine speech. What Irigaray indicates 
by "outside" or "beyond" — woman goes "beyond theoretical speculation" 
(Speculum 193) — may just as easily be what is already there, had always been 
there, but was not visible as such because of the overdeterminations of Plato- 
Freud-Lacan. Irigaray's concept takes issue with Lacan's unquestioning insistence 
on the phallus and the masculine as primary signifiers. As Allison Assiter puts 
it, "why should 'masculine' signifiers play the role they do in Lacan's system? 
Isn't he assuming 'phallic' power in his description of the role and functioning of 
the phallic signifier?" (94). 

Thereby Irigaray's statement that "I am going to make an effort — for one 
cannot simply leap outside that [phallogocentric] discourse — to situate myself at 
its borders and to move continuously from the inside to the outside" 20 (This Sex 
122). Irigaray modifies de Beauvoir here: "no woman can claim, without bad 
faith, to situate herself beyond her sex"(S^ xx). She also anticipates Spivak: "One 
cannot of course 'choose' to step out of ideology. The most responsible 'choice' 

20 «Je vais plutdt m'efforcer — car on ne peut simplement sauter hors de ce discours — de me situer 
a ses frontieres et de passer, sans arrSte, du dedans au dehors» (CS 121) 

seems to be to know it as best one can, recognize it as best one can, and, through 

one's necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to change it" (IQW 120)- 

Even if only metaphorically, Irigaray avers an in- /out-side to traverse: it remains 

unclear whether her declarations here are performative or constative. If her 

statements are performative, then she tries to think of ways to think "otherwise." 

This is not the same as proposing an "elsewhere." 

I described above Irigaray (and much of the mystic tradition's) 

analogizing God and puissance as experiences and knowledges outside, or 

beyond, the scope of what is circumscribable by phallic discourses. Irigaray's 

figuration of the mystic similarly analogizes a temporal and spatial anteriority to 

puissance that coincides with arguments over anteriority to ideology. Jouissance 

is "beyond any other feeling"— "par-desus autre sentir" (S_ 193, Speculum 240). 

Speaking paradoxically both in response to Freud and in projecting the mystic's 

experience of her jouissance, "[s]he cannot specify exactly what she wants. Words 

begin to fail her. She senses that something remains to be said [rester a dire] that 

resists all speech, that can at best be stammered out" (£ 193 emphasis mine). 

"Remains to be said"— Irigaray indicates not only something which exceeds the 

capacity of phallic language, but also something that has resided in an anterior 

relation to ideology. The stammering [balbutier] that she describes constitutes 

not only something reclaimable from outside phallic discursive knowledge, nor 

something left over from unrealized puissant potentiality, but also the mystic's 

recognition of the contradiction between her knowledge and her experience. 

"What is beginning to happen takes place in such secrecy and deep oblivion that 

no intelligence, no common sense, can have precise knowledge of it" — because 

that knowledge itself is itself masculine, phallic. Instead, there is "[j]ust an elusive 

memory that flees representation, re-presentation, repetition" by phallic 

discourse (£ 194). Since nothing is defineable, delineable, as experience or 

through language, "the best plan is to abstain from all discourse, to keep quiet, 

or else utter only a sound so inarticulate [si peu articulee] that it barely forms a 

song. While all the while keeping an attentive ear open for any hint or tremor 

coming back [annoncant un retour]"(S. 193). Another linguistic double gesture: in 

"coming back" Irigaray posits not only the mystic initially finding her way 

through the jouissance whose existence she suspected with ears still trained to 

phallic discourse, but also the sound of that jouissance, heretofore phallically 

foreclosed, returning to the mystic. Ideology and its mystifications, and puissant 

resistance of them, define each other's anteriority, temporal and conceptual. 

Counter-ideological Muteness 

Irigaray posits the mystic "[resisting all knowledges that would not find 
its/ my sense in this abyss [. . .] But if the Word was made flesh this way, and to 
this extent, it can only have been to make me (become) God in my 
jouissance, which can at last be recognized [. . .] Outside of all self-as-same" '(£200). In 
this passage, Irigaray effects a double gesture around the mystic, her knowledge 
and experience, and representation. First, Irigaray posits the mystic's realization 
and knowledge of her own jouissance, her experience of that jouissance and of her 
knowledge of it. Thus the mystic figure exceeds the strictures that describe 
ideological mystification: she eschews representation of her experience, since all 
such representations would reduce her knowledge of her experience to the 
vocabulary of confessors and analysts. The mystic remains deliberately mute. 

Having been subjected to masculine discursive investigation, the mystic 
deliberately draws mute: "[w]hat she discovers in this divine passion, she neither 
can nor will translate. At last, she has been authorized to remain silent, hidden 
from prying eyes in the intimacy of this exchange where she sees (herself as) 
what she will be unable to express" (S 200). Irigaray posits the mystic silencing 
herself within he body. By so proposing, Irigaray turns de Beauvoir's proposal of 
"bad faith" inside out, since women would already possess the "truth" that 
phallic sexuality would hide from them and manipulate their reflection of that 

truth, misrepresent that truth to its very source. Irigaray poses a paradoxical, 

counter-disruptive gesture: deliberately perform bad faith to disrupt the very 
relation between its constituent ideological terms. Present the face that 
phallogocentric discourse already projects, entertain that discourse's whims, and 
elude its further invasion. This tactic, which Irigaray commentators squabble 
over still, is actually more complex than those debates appreciate when 
considered as a thinking through of women's mediation of the ideological 
disruption between their knowledge and experience. It involves the multiplicity 
within singularity that Irigaray proposes elsewhere, a knowledge both of 
puissance and of the discourses that seek to disclose or appropriate it. Irigaray 
proposes a paradoxically deliberate, conscious absorption of ideology that 
neutralizes ideology's mystifications. Rather than simply effecting mimicry, in 
concealing one knowledge by revealing another the Irigarayan mystic 
perf ormatively exploits the duplicity contained within mystification. 

By the time of This Sex Whi ch Is Not One. Irigaray has translated the 
mystical experience of an alternate value from the mystic to women in general. 
She refigures Marx's text on commodity fetishism, which itself works by way of 
a figuration: "If commodities could speak, they would say this: our use-value 
may interest men, but it does not belong to us as objects. What does belong to us 
as objects, however, is our value. Our own intercourse as commodities proves it. 
We relate to each other merely as exchange-values" (Capital 176-77). What Marx 
describes is a relation between objects based on their knowledge of their 
experience as objects. Irigaray takes Marx, and apparently his animated 
commodities, at their word: 

But what if these "commodities" refused to go to "market"? What if they 
maintained "another" kind of commerce, among themselves? 
Exchanges without identifiable terms, without accounts, without end [. . .] 
Use and exchange would be indistinguishable. The greatest value would 
be at the same time the least kept in reserve. [. . .]As for all the strategies 
and savings, the appropriations tantamount to theft and rape, the 
laborious accumulation of capital, how ironic all that would be. (IS 196-97) 


The experience she here describes duplicates that between the mystic and her 

experience of her puissance. But Irigaray, despite such accusations, is no simple 

idealist. As she had in the context of the mystic, she here recognizes that any 

such project is always under threat of phallic reinscription. She carefully qualifies 

her projection, returning to the thesis she proposed in "ha Mysterique:" that 

ideological mystification in the Marxist sense cannot anticipate the mutated 

return of the very potentialities it presumably forecloses. She asks of her 

proposal in This Sex. "Utopia? Perhaps. Unless this mode of exchange has 

undermined the order of commerce from the beginning" (IS 1997). Again, 

Irigaray recognizes ideology and puissance as nondialectical phenomena that 

maintain a tense relationship through the paradoxical double-meaning of 


This very potentiality, continually under threat, is precisely that which 

Irigaray recognizes as requiring defensive strategies. Yet, part of this defense 

relies on resistant articulation and representation: 

For women to undertake tactical strikes, to keep themselves separate 
from men long enough to learn to defend their desire, especially through 
speech, [. . .] to forge for themselves a social status that compels 
recognition, to earn their living in order to escape from the condition of 
prostitute . . . these are certainly indispensable stages in the escape from 
their proletarization on the exchange market. QS 33) 

It is odd, then, that when she critiques Lacan's Encore, she does so in terms of 
Lacan's implicit discussion of representation: "the right to experience pleasure is 
awarded to a statue [. . .] In Rome? So far away? To look? At a statue? Of a 
saint? What pleasure are we talking about? Whose pleasure?" (T_S_ 91). 
Apparently, Marx provides her with a useful figuration — animated 
commodities — with which she has no objection. She recognizes that Marx 
tropologically performs in his text the very phenomenon of fetishization that he 
describes. As I indicate in my discussion of Lacan above, his text implies that 
representation is the very issue it grapples with through its invocation not of St. 


Teresa as referent or textual self-representation, but of Bernini's representation of 
St. Teresa's textual self-representation. Jouissance itself is less the point than the 
overdetermination of subjects' knowledge of puissant experience by way of 
phallic systems of representation. Bernini and St. Teresa both describe (a) 
mystical experience within the same phallic discourses of representation. Neither 
captures jouissance, nor the mystical experience itself — the experience and its 
knowledge, while hinted at through both works, still exceeds both works. 
Jouissance is not found in nor bound to those works themselves. 

In such an argument, Irigaray engages in a critique similar to that which 
Amy Hollywood makes of her. By fashioning an a priori figure," the mystic," 
derived from both an extant tropological tradition of resistance and reinscription, 
and from mystic's textual representations of their knowledge of their puissant 
experiences, Irigaray, like de Beauvoir, Lacan, and in contextual proximity 
Fanon, formulates a discursive gesture that exceeds these sources. This excess or 
supplementarity is that element of trope that Hollywood and others miss in their 
critique of de Beauvoir, Lacan and Irigaray' s figure, as a textual (in Bernini's case 
sculptural) mode. 'Trope," as Srinivas Aravamudan reminds us, "swerves from 
self-adequation to surplus"(l). To trope is to alter or turn (xpojto?, xpercEiv) from 
a supposedly originary form for a specific purpose. Denunciations such as 
Hollywood's interpret "turn" as "twist" or "distort," thereby privileging the 
supposed original at the expense of whatever might be gained from the altered 
product. Yet as tropes, the mystic figured by de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray (as 
well as Bataille and de Certeau) already admit not only to such permutations, but 
also to their necessity. Working outward from both the remnent texts of the 
historical referents as well as the discourses accrued around them through 
time — such as the psychoanalytical troping of the mystic as a variant 
hysteric — Irigaray, de Beauvoir and Lacan's figures show that "[r]ather than 
reifying a voice of resistance or dissent, the act of reading makes available the 

differing mechanisms of agency that traverse texts, contexts, and agents 

themselves" (Aravamudan 14). 

Irigaray leaves us, however, another paradox. Through her renegotiation 

of de Beauvoir's espoused existential masculine activity which focuses toward 

what mystics do with the knowledge of their experience, and Lacan's concerns 

for representation of the mystic and her experience tout court, Irigaray proposes 

a selective muteness or silence. Buried within debates over her essentialism and 

the timidity of her prescriptive muteness, remains Irigaray's project of tactical 

regrouping. While advocating a double strategy of silence on one's actual 

experience on the one hand, and reflecting back to phallic discourse that which it 

already projects on the other, Irigaray refigures her own trope of the mystic. Just 

as "woman" becomes a mystic by grace of her puissant experience, so the 

"initiated" mystic also becomes simultaneously a mystes [nuoTrjg], "one vowed to 

keep silent." In her later work in This Sex and Sexes and Genealog ies Irigaray 

implies a sense of mystic that Lacan and de Beauvoir overlook, but that Fanon 

performs through literary and philosophical quotation of Nigritude in Black Skin, 

White Masks: the initiated may keep silent to others of their secret, but they talk to 

each other. So it is that, just as with Esperanza Cordero in The House on Mang o 

Street . and as we will see with Spivak's Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, and Celie and 

Shug in The Color Purple, women with a puissant knowledge of their experience 

can represent and communicate that knowledge to other women toward 

bettering their situation. Irigaray's projection in This Sex thereby anticipates an 


[wjithout additions and accumulations, one plus one, woman after 
woman . . . Without sequence or number. Without standard or yardstick. 
Red blood and sham would no longer be differentiated by deceptive 
envelopes concealing their worth. Use and exchange would be 
indistinguishable. The greatest value would be at the same time the least 
kept in reserve. Q£ 196-97) 




Knowledge is played out or mapped out on the entire map of the 
speaking being, thought is the puissance or excess of being 
— Gayatri Spivak ("LRS" 261). 

One cannot of course "choose" to step out of ideology. The most 
responsible "choice" seems to be to know it as best one can, recognize it 
as best one can, and, through one's necessarily inadequate interpretation, 
to work to change it 
—Gayatri Spivak ("POI" 120) 

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in the context established between de 
Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan and Irigaray, posits an analogous but paradoxical figure 
of the speaking subject. If speech is a mark of alterity in that one's subjectivity is 
established through a listener, then the subaltern, by Spivak's definition, "cannot 
speak." And yet Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri 1 , the particular figure that Spivak 
develops out of a generic sense of the subaltern (itself an impossible notion) both 
does and does not speak. Inhabiting a multiple, heterogeneous and often 
contradictory discursive space, Spivak's subaltern figures effect a particular 
negotiation of ideology. 

In her discussions of the subaltern, particularly in the essay "Can the 
Subaltern Speak?" where Bhaduri makes her initial appearance, Spivak executes 
a complex double gesture. She relates the circumstances of a young woman who 
seeks to effect political action and toward that end takes her own life. The young 
woman deliberately orchestrates and stages her suicide around the discourses 
that she knows will seek to reappropriate her narrative. In so doing, despite her 

projected audience, Bhaduri evinces a knowledge and an experience that allows 

1 Over time, Spivak's texts offer two spellings of Bhaduri's name: Bhutan eswari and 
Bhufcaneswari. I use whichever spelling that maintains the chronology of the text I cite at a 
given time. Otherwise, for the sake of clarity, I refer to her as Bhaduri. 


her to negotiate the ideological disjunctures faced by our previous figures of the 

mystic and the colonized. She knows what she experiences, and that she 

experiences it. Yet the jouissant element I have traced to this point becomes 

problematic. Like the elements of knowledge, experience, and representation, 

puissance too, in Spivak's figure, permutes in ways possible only within the 

specific context of the subaltern. 

The doubleness of Spivak's gesture becomes apparent in not only her 
essay's manipulation of syntax and grammar, or those manipulations' thematic 
development of the subaltern as trope, but also in her particular troping of 
Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri. Spivak's essay and those that respond to it perform the 
"inside and outside" that they constatively discuss. Spivak's readings thereby 
effect, in part, the very jouissant element that her rhetoric otherwise dismisses as 
textual possibility. Spivak's text generates the jouissance that her figure of 
Bhaduri cannot know, ostensibly foreclosed as her speech seems to be. 

In closely reading Spivak's essays and the contexts she specifically invokes 
or constructs through them, I draw my three constituent theoretical figures to 
their closest point of asymptosis. The interference field created by this proximity, 
however, indicates the jouissant elements that exceed even their mutual 
reconfiguration. Through this same field I further discuss Cisneros and Obejas' 
narrators, as well as establish the contexts through which I discuss Alice Walker's 
The Color Purple in my final chapter. 

Spivak's work on the subaltern is intimately connected to her discussions 
of ideology. Yet the senses of ideology she deploys are themselves 
heterogeneous and irreducible. I begin, then, by briefly tracing the concept 
figure of subaltern as figured by Antonio Gramsci, as well as its development 
through the Subaltern Studies group. I also indicate the eminence gris that 
Foucaulf s concept of pouvoir/savoir plays in Spivak's concepts of ideological 

Ideology, Hegemony, the Subaltern: Gramsci 

Spivak admits that "[although I read ["subaltern"] first in Gramsci, I 
encountered it in its current usage first in the work of the Subaltern Studies 
Group. As a result of the publication of [. . .] Selected Subaltern Studies [. . .] in 
the United States, the word has now lost some of its definitive power" 
(Imaginary Maps 208 n.9). Gramsci recognizes the early links between ideology 
and materialism. He notes that in the Eighteenth Century ideology constituted 
the "science of ideas" which insisted that "[i]deas had to be broken down into 
their original elements, and these could be nothing other than 'sensations'" (375). 
"Indeed," Gramsci continues, "the meaning which the term 'ideology' has 
assumed in Marxist philosophy implicitly contains a negative value judgment 
and excludes the possibility that for its founders the origin of ideas should be sought 
for in sensations, and therefore, in the last analysis, in physiology" (376 emphasis 
mine). Ideology constitutes for Gramsci not only a lived experience, but also a 
relational value between one's lived experience and one's perception of it 2 — as 
we have seen with Fanon and Lacan, a contradictory relation. This relation takes 
on a particular character, as de Beauvoir, Fanon, Irigaray, and Spivak indicate, 
when the subject in question is raced and sexed. As with the figures of the mystic 
and colonized, le vecu is experienced differently by different bodies. 

In such terms, Gramsci's and Althusser's concepts draw asymptotically 
closer. As Terry Eagleton notes, for Gramsci "[t]wo conflicting conceptions of the 
world usually exist [. . .] the one drawn from the 'official' notions of the rulers, 
the other derived from an oppressed people's practical experience" that then 
effects a class-wide macrological dynamic (118). Therefrom arises Gramsci's dual 
notions of the subaltern, those utterly without representation or agency, and of 
hegemony, the situation that so keeps them. Gramsci distinguishes between 

2 At this point, Gramsci mires his discussion in terms of superstructure — " Ideology' itself must 
be analyzed historically, in the terms of the philosophy of praxis, as a superstructure" (376) — 
although he notes the mistake of thinking that the superstructure changes ideology, but not 
vice versa. 


"historically organic ideologies [. . .] which are necessary to a given structure, 
and ideologies that are arbitrary, rationalistic and willed" (376-77). 

As Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan notes, "the emphasis in Gramsci's 
discourse is on 'change.' Change is to be produced through a critical 
consciousness and a critical knowledge of these relationships" (DM 49). We have 
seen permutations of this notion at work already: the figures of the mystic and 
of the colonized each evince the centrality of a knowledge not only of their 
experience, but of their experience as contradictory to their knowledge. In this 
context, Radhakrishnan invokes the developing discourses of not only 
existential realization out of bad faith, but also of knowledges that, as "critical," 
exceed the bounds of that which they critique. "The point here," Radhakrishnan 
continues in such vein, " is that [the subject] is not passively identical or 
synonymous with the the complex of relationships [. . .] To Gramsci, [the subject] 
is what [that subject] does, and what [the subject] does is the active realization of 
changing complexes of relationships" (DM 49). Gramsci views subjects as still 
having some sense or ability of self-determination and freedom. For him, the 
"'constituted' nature of '[the subject] as node' does not preempt the possibility 
of [the subject] functioning as an agent in relatively and historically constituted 
freedom" (DM49). "Gramsci believes," David Hawkes points out, "that 
revolutions, while they may be facilitated by shifts in the economic structure, are 
also fought out [. . .] on the level of 'ideologies'" (116). Gramsci projects that 
ideological overdetermination would not be inescapable, but rather, and more 
complexly, negotiable — whereby the subject is defined ("realized" in de 
Beauvoir's terms) through action. 

Since Spivak's own work focuses extensively on and broadly develops the 
concept of ideology, I will not offer here a lengthy explication of Gramsci's 
notion of hegemony. As Terry Eagleton notes, "hegemony is also a broader 
category than ideology: it includes ideology, but is not reducible to it" (112). 

Rather, I will briefly note where the concept of hegemony coincides with 

Gramsci's development of the subaltern figure. In current parlance, hegemony 

assumes a totalizing, all-encompassing dynamic in which every constituent is a 

guilty party — whether they are aware of it. By "hegemony," Gramsci denotes 

the nexus of material and ideological instruments through which the ruling class 

maintains its power," of which instruments that ruling class may not itself be 

aware, nor over which they always exert control (Hawkes 117) — "it is not in all 

cases the dominant level by which rule is sustained"" (Eagleton 113). The 

fragmentary elements that effect hegemony account for this, in part, as 

hegemony " is not just some successful kind of ideology, but may be 

discriminated into its various ideological, cultural, political and economic aspects" 

(Eagleton 113). 

The "condition and effect" of such a dynamic, as Spivak might describe it, 

resides in the under-underclass Gramsci describes as the subaltern. In The Prison 

Notebooks Gramsci troped Marx's concept of ideology into that of "common 

sense," with the explicit meaning of the sense of things that is commonly held 

throughout a society, either through brute enforcement or by situational 

circumstances (which to Gramsci create the same effect). Another term is 

"popular conviction." Gramsci arrives at this notion, in part, by marking "a 

potential element of error in assessing the value of ideologies, due to the fact [. . 

.] that the name ideology is given both to the necessary superstructure of a 

particular structure and to the arbitrary elucubrations of particular individuals" 

(376). In so thinking he distinguishes between "historically organic ideologies [. . 

.] which are necessary to a given structure, and ideologies that are arbitrary 

rationalistic, or 'willed'" 3 (376-77). So it is that, in his later section on ideology, 

Gramsci harkens back to Marx's notion of ideology to indicate that "[a]nother 

proposition of Marx is that a popular conviction often has the same energy as a 

3 Although Gramsci earlier distinguishes between "the realm of pure 'ideology' and that of 
practical action" (197). 


material force or something of the kind" (377). This statement mediates between 
his earlier claims for the lived experience of both ideology and its contradiction 
with a subject's knowledge, and Althusser's later thesis of the material effect of 

The issue for Gramsci becomes that of on whose backs "popular 
conviction" or "common sense" are carried, as a material effect and a lived 
experience. While Gramsci avers the mutual complicity, conscious or 
unconscious, of all class sectors of society, it is to those who carry the most but 
are represented (vertreten) the least that Gramsci turns — those whom Gramsci 
terms the subaltern. This amalgamation has for its daily lived experience the 
fragmentation that comprises their ideological environment. In his famous 
definition, "[t]he subaltern classes [. . .] are not unified and cannot unite until they 
are able to become a 'State'"(52). It is from this definition and Gramsci's 
development of it that the later writers of Postcoloniality, including the Subaltern 
Studies group and Gayatri Spivak, will effect further permutations of the 
subaltern. As indicated above, the element of representation, as either 
Darstellung or Vertretung as Spivak will clarify in a moment, becomes a defining 
issue for the figure of the subaltern. Ranajit Guha, in his Elementary Aspects of 
Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, takes up Gramsci's thread of subaltern 
action which, because of the very fragmentation that defines them, must occur 
spontaneously, provisionally, and in relatively small groups. The opening pages 
of Guha's text illustrate the impact of representation of subaltern efforts to effect 
a political voice in their own terms; the issue becomes how such actions are 
represented, to or by the dominant discourses and to the subaltern themselves 
(3-5). The rest of his text effects a retracing of not only the history of those 
efforts, but the history of their representation as well. 

Apart from this effort, one of Guha's contributions was to translate 
Gramsci's concept-figure of the subaltern into the explicit realm of Postcolonial 


representations, whereby the colonized populace's self-knowledge was thrown 
into tension between their own pre-colonial systems of self-representation, those 
imposed on them by their colonial overseers, and those that arose in response of 
the colonized to their colonial situations. Guha's permutation of Gramsci's 
figure — for despite the indubitably important referent, "the subaltern" had 
nevertheless become a figure in a discourse, represented there (darstellen and 
vertreten) if nowhere else — had began the turn from a class(less) signifier to take 
on more particular permutations, tropological and material, through the those 
associated with the Subaltern Studies Group, and Gayatri Spivak. 

Whereas Gramsci denoted subaltern as (the phenomenon of) an ununified 
class, writers such as Asok Sen expanded the notion to include "the entire people 
that is subordinate in terms of class, caste, age, gender, and office, or in any other 
way" (203). Such a broad definition would seem to rob the term of its specific 
invocation, and indeed Spivak herself notes that "[a]s a result of the publication 
of [. . .] Selected Subaltern Studies [. . .] in the United States, the word has now 
lost some of its definitive power" (Imaginary Maps 208 n.9). Nevertheless, the 
permutable senses of subaltern do more to emphasize the heterogeneity of the 
position that the concept describes, and to expand the scope of consideration for 
what constitutes power, representation, and oppression, as well as the 
simultaneously and contradictorily fragmented but coalitional motion of capital, 
race, and sex across multiple terrains, national and geographical. 
Ideology: the Night of Nonkno wledge 4 

Spivak's own particular figuration of the subalten — from "A Literary 
Representation of the Subaltern" to "Can the Subaltern Speak?" to A Critique of 
Postcolonial Reason — coincides with her developing notion of ideology. And of 
jouissance as well, for not only Spivak's troping of the subaltern but also the 

4 "When we act we don't act out out of thinking through details; we act in something that 
Derrida calls, following Kierkegaard, the 'night of nonknowledge'" ("Subaltern Talk" 189). 
Such a formulation implicitly invokes discourses about the mystic, from Silesius on through 

invocations of Lacan that I noted in the Introduction, as well as the surmisable 

influence of Fanon in the discourses through which Spivak works, draw the 

trope of the mystic asymptotically near in terms of voice, representation, 

knowledge and experience. 

In 1982's "The Politics of Interpretation," Spivak offers one of her most 
sustained and focused discussions of ideology. She not only states that "[i]t is 
difficult to speak of a politics of interpretation without a working notion of 
ideology" but further qualifies the notion "as larger than the concepts of 
individual consciousness and will" ("POI" 118). "[A]n articulated notion of 
ideology," Spivak offers, would be "larger than and yet dependent upon the 
individual subject" (121). In these statements Spivak refigures Gramsci's concern 
for the relation of the individual to the group within ideology. 

In "The Politics of Interpretation" she "considers] woman as the 

ideologically excluded other" (129), which formulation, she later augments to "a 

map of the speaking being that is beyond its own grasp as other" ("LRS" 259). 

She had already indicated in some detail the (early) sense of "ideology" she 

intended, and the kind of critique it required: 

Ideology in action is what a group takes to be natural and self-evident, 
that of which the group, as a group, must deny any historical 
sedimentation. It is both the condition and the effect of the constitution of 
the subject (of ideology) as freely willing and consciously choosing in a 
world that is seen as background. In turn, the subject(s) of ideology are 
the conditions and effects of the self-identity of the group as a group. It is 
impossible, of course, to mark off a group as an entity without sharing 
complicity with its ideological definition. A persistent critique of ideology 
is thus forever incomplete. ("POI" 118) 

Spivak then attends the "excluding and appropriating [of] a homogeneous 
woman" as a mark "of ideology at work" ("POI" 118). 

Such a "homogeneous woman" would of necessity be a construction, an 
ideological representation. As a representation, a figuration, that "woman" 
would occupy a particular relation to ideology. By proposing that "[o]ne cannot 
of course 'choose' to step out of ideology. The most responsible "choice" seems 

to be to know it as best one can, recognize it as best one can, and, through one's 

necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to change it" ("POI" 120). Spivak 

upsets Marx's proposal in Capital that ideology is by definition not knowing. 

Similarly, she hedges on Althusser's proposal of the "representation of the 

subject's Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence" by 

positing "one's necessarily inadequate interpretation." Spivak's formulations of 

subjectivity and agency in ideology also play between those of de Beauvoir's 

notion of "bad faith" (because of the element of "choice" upon which Spivak 

insists) and Irigaray's spatial metaphor of shuttling (although "shuttling" itself 

holds particular importance for Spivak elsewhere 5 ). She folds de Beauvoir's 

proposal that "no woman can claim, without bad faith, to situate herself beyond 

her sex" back on itself, since good and bad faiths each constitute a choice (SS_ xx). 

For Spivak such a choice remains within (apparently) overdetermined bounds, 

since "[w]ithin a broad concept of ideology, the subject does not lose its power to 

act or resist but is seen as irretrievably plural" ("POI" 122). Irigaray announces 

that she will "make an effort — for one cannot simply leap outside that 

[phallocentric] discourse — to situate myself at its borders and to move 

continuously from the inside to the outside" (This Sex 122). Irigaray proposes to 

straddle the border, and so reinscribes the inside/ outside dichotomy of ideology. 

Spivak (and here I emphasize "step out of" where Spivak applies "choose") 

refutes such a dichotomy, effecting a Derridean deconstruction of inside/ outside, 

of exteriority tout court, and implies one's need to negotiate the situation by 

recognizing it as ideological — a gesture toward her redefinition of de Beauvoir's 

notion. Such borders themselves hint at the elements of not only representation 

but also who orchestrates those representations: "The productive undecidability 

of the borderlines of politics , art, law, and philosophy [. . . ] is operated by the 
'Spivak explains that "[b]etween patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object- 
formation, the figure of the woman disappears," and carefully notes that "the figure of the 
woman disappears not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the 
displaced figuration of the 'third-world woman' caught between tradition and 
modernization" ("CSS?" 306). 

heterogeneous and discontinuous concept of ideology" ("POI" 120). 

In 1988's "Can the Subaltern Speak?"Spivak extended her use of the 

concept to critique Western (i.e. French) theorists' ignorance of their own place in 

it: "[Foucault and Deleuze] systematically ignore the question of ideology and 

their own implication in intellectual and economic history" (272). "Ideology" 

becomes a crucial element in Spivak's early critiques of (particularly 

Francophone) intellectual production, "an admirable program of localized 

resistance [that] is not an alternative to, but can complement, macrological 

struggles along 'Marxisf lines. Yet if its situation is universalized, it 

accommodates unacknowledged privileging of the subject. Without a theory of 

ideology, it can lead to a dangerous utopianism" ("CSS?"290). 

A Pause for Foucault 

In the background of a good deal of Spivak's work on ideology and the 
subaltern runs a commentary on Michele Foucaulf s calculus of pouvoir/savoir, or 
"power/ knowledge." "Can the Subaltern Speak?" directly responds to elements 
of transparency of the Eurocentric philosophic cogito that Spivak sees at work in 
much of Foucault and Gilles Deleuze's corpus. I have not yet mentioned Foucault 
since his theories of discourse themselves departed from the concept of ideology. 
Including "Can the Subaltern Speak?", "More on Power/ Knowledge," and A. 
Critique of Postcolonial Reason 6 . a decade transpires. Yet Spivak's reading of 
Foucault continually turns on the particularity of his formula pouvoir/savoir, 
which has particular resonances for my discussion of her figuration of the 

Spivak offers a succinct explanation of Foucaulf s pouvoir/savoir 

if the lines of making sense of something are laid down in a certain way, 
then you are able to do only those things with that something which are 
possible within and by the arrangement of those lines. Pouvoir- 

6 Hereafter I cite "More on Power/ Knowledge" as "MP/K" and A Critique of Postcolonial 

saooir — being able to do something — only as you are able to make sense 

Her further elucidation of Focaulf s notion carries haunting homophonic and 

conceptual echoes to not only Marx's formulation of ideology as "not-know/do" 

and Fanon and Lacan's "not-know/ experience." In continuing her translation, 

Spivak also notes the element of trope buried deep in the work, analogized as 

catachresis: "Pouvoir/savoir [...] is catachrestic in the way that all names of 

processes not anchored in the intending subject must be: lines of knowing 

constituting ways of doing and not doing" ("MP/K" 37). In her own troping of 

the subaltern and Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri, Spivak effects an oddly similar but 

permuted sense of Foucaulf s formula, lines of not knowing constitute ways of 

doing (or not doing), of experiencing but not being able to articulate, of being 

but having no recourse to articulation. 

In her reading of Tane Eyre in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason S pivak 

notes that "It is the active pouvoir-savoir or making-sense-abilty of imperialism 

that provides the discursive field" for the novel (CPR 120). She continues to 

explain that her "working definition of 'discursive field' must assume the 

existence of discrete 'systems of signs' at action in the socius, each related to 

specified axiomatics [. . .] such a definition would be at a greater level of social 

instantiation than the ground-level sub-individual or pre-ontic 'murmur' or 

network of pouvoir (to be able to) and saooir (to know) reduced to force and 

utterance as theorized by Foucault" (CPR 121). It is Bertha, Rochester's mad 

Carribbean wife, who suffers this latter fate as Spivak describes it, and Jane left 

ambivalently to attend the colonial aftermath. Yet the "murmuring" to which 

Spivak refers asymptotically alludes to murmurs we have heard before. Spivak 

had already penned "Can the Subaltern Speak?" when she wrote "More on 

Power/ Knowledge," and she returned to speaking about the subaltern and her 

own particular figuration of Bhaduri a year later. As we see in the next section on 

the subaltern and Bhaduri, Spivak herself effectively negotiates between the 

knowing-doing axis of early discourses on ideology; the knowledge-experience 

axis of de Beauvoir, Fanon, and Lacan; Irigaray's particular inclusion of the 

female body, murmuring, mimicking and silence; and Gramsci and Althusser's 

concerns for material experience of the ideological. 

The Subaltern: Alienation and (Non)representation 

Spivak's notion of the subaltern, then, is framed not only by her 
derivations from Gramsci, and concomitant permutations through the Subaltern 
Studies group. It also results from her consideration of ideology as a 
heterogeneous field. As such, the subaltern becomes a figure for a particular 
alienation. The simultaneous operations of ideology and mystification intersect 
for the subaltern woman as described by Spivak in particular ways: the 
industrialization of the world production market by US.-style capitalism in the 
"postcolonial" world, and the component vicissitudes of global capitalism, are so 
dispersed as to be not so much "hidden" (as in "mystery") but rather too diffuse 
to be seen comprehensively. Such diffusion — the mystification which Marx 
earlier indicated — also defines the subaltern position as described initially by 
Gramsci and elaborated by Spivak. 

Spivak discusses the female postcolonial subaltern within the context of 

Gramsci's "organic intellectual": "When the subaltern 'speaks' in order to be 

heard and gets into the structure of responsible (responding and being 

responded to) resistance, he or she is on the way to becoming an organic 

intellectual" (Imaginary Maps xxvi). "The subaltern is all that is not elite," Spivak 

clarifies, " 

but the trouble with those kinds of names is that if you have any kind of 
political interest you name it in the hope that the name will disappear. 
Thaf s what class consciousness is in the interest of: the class disappearing. 
What politically we want to see is that the name would not be possible. So 
what I'm interested in is seeing ourselves as namers of the subaltern. If 
the subaltern can speak then, thank God, the subaltern is not a subaltern 
anymore. (Post-colonial Critic 158) 

"The subaltern," Spivak summarizes, "is a name as 'woman' in Derrida, or 

'power' in Foucault, and the name comes with an anxiety that if the political 

program gets anywhere the name will disappear." (Postcolonial Critic 166) 

Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri/ "Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri" 

To the trope at hand, then. Spivak's long essay "Can the Subaltern 

Speak?" addresses representation as a central matter of subject formation. She 

begins with a specific critique of Foucault and Deleuze's overlooking of their 

own investment in a particular subject whom Spivak marks as a Western, 

European subject. She finds particular fault in the absence of any notion of 

ideology to their work — despite her writings on Foucault not long after. Spivak 

insists here that "a theory of [ideology] is necessary for any understanding of 

interests" personal, social, or economic ("CSS?" 273). She thereby invokes 

Althusser, whose work on representation I discussed in Chapter Two. Her 

attention focuses on the divisions of representation that every thinker in terms 

of ideology has had to contend with since Marx: Darstellung (to depict or stage, 

re-present) and Verteretung (to substitute or proxy for, represent). In so doing, 

Spivak's text collects several threads we have traced from Marx through de 

Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan and Irigaray, as well as anticipates where her own 

discourse on Foucault will turn with her discussions of pouvoir/savoir as a 

variation of ideology: 

[i]n the guise of a post-Marxist description of the scene of power, we thus 
encounter a much older debate: between representation or rhetoric as 
tropology and as persuasion. Darstellen belongs to the first constellation, 
vertreten — with stronger suggestions of substitution, to the second. Again, 
they are related,but running them together , especially in order to say that 
beyond both is where op-pressed subjects speak, act and know for themselves, 
leads to an essentialist, Utopian politics" ("CSS?" 276). 

By this statement, Spivak apparently contradicts the discursive trope of the 
mystic and her puissance, which for de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray has orbited 
around a notion of beyond from its inception. But her critique is equally readable 
as a cautionary against the kinds of idealistic collapsing of the otherwise distinct 
modes of representation that inattentive readings of the discourses of the mystic 

may invite. 

Such a misreading poses a particular danger to women generically, and to 
subaltern women in specific. Since each of these positions results from a series of 
related and mutually informing, but nonetheless heterogeneous and discrete, 
discursive elements, the rhetorics in play must maintain the distinction between 
representations. "The solution," she warns, "[does not] lie in the positivist 
inclusion of a monolithic collectivity of 'women' in the list of the oppressed 
whose unfractured subjectivity allows them to speak for themselves against an 
equally monolithic 'same system'" ("CSS?" 278). To do so would be to consign 
women, en masse, into the "beyond" she warned of earlier — which in the case of 
the subaltern woman that Spivak describes, is part of the very mystifying 
process of global capital. Engaging then the further implications of discourses 
such as de Beauvoir, Lacan, and bigamy's, Spivak asks the resulting question 
that hinges on representation: "[o]n the other side of the international division of 
labor from socialized capital, inside and outside the circuit of the epistemic 
violence of imperialist law and education supplementing an earlier economic 
text, can the subaltern speak?" ("CSS?" 283). 

Spivak's question posits first an oppositional space, a provisional beyond 
("the other side of [. . .] socialized capital"), and then a space composed by 
mutuaUy-defining elements of "inside and outside." The latter indicates the 
ambivalent, contradictory space(s) in which Spivak will posit the female 
subaltern. Her spatial metaphor at first threatens a dialectical architecture, until 
her inclusion of "inside and outside" disrupts the dialectic by an act of 
simultaneity. By the same gesture,the statement confronts both de Beauvoir's 
existential insistence that "no woman can claim, without bad faith, to situate 
herself beyond her sex"(S^xx), as well as Irigaray's "I am going to make an 
effort — for one cannot simply leap outside that [phallogocentric] discourse — to 
situate myself at its borders and to move continuously from the inside to the 

outside" (This Sex 122). The global capital that Spivak describes is already both 

"inside and outside," which proposition throws Irigaray's proposal into question. 

Spivak had already indicated that not unlike trying to remove oneself from the 

field of capital, "[o]ne cannot of course 'choose' to step out of ideology. The most 

responsible 'choice' seems to be to know it as best one can, recognize it as best 

one can, and, through one's necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to 

change it" (KM12Q). 

The shifts effected between Spivak' s grammar and the spatial metaphors 
she deploys effectively tropes the disjunctive experience she describes. Thus she 
states a few pages later that "[f]or the 'true' subaltern group, whose identity is its 
difference, there is no unrepresentable subaltern subject that can know and speak 
itself; the intellectual's solution is not to abstain from representation" ("CSS?" 285 
emphasis mine). "Subaltern" here is defined not as in Gramsci's earlier terms of 
"not unified and cannot unite," nor in Ranajit Guha nor Asok Sen's catalogue of 
affiliations (class, sex, etc.). Rather, performing the effect that her statement 
constatively indicates, Spivak works both "the 'true' subaltern" and the 
"intellectual's solution" through a series of proximal double negatives heralded 
by "difference." To unravel Spivak's textual performance, which is not so much a 
linguistic puzzle as the discursive echo of the situation she describes, it is by dint 
of representability that the subaltern maintains subaltern status. 

Yet this situation becomes only more dire for the subaltern female, the 
focus of Spivak's text. "Within the effaced itinerary of the subaltern subject," 
Spivak insists, "the track of sexual difference is doubly effaced"("CSS?" 287). This 
logic operates in light of her previous statement that "[f]or the 'true' subaltern 
group [. . .] identity is its difference," whose copula is also renders the statement 
a chiasmus: difference is the subaltern's identity. Difference remains, whether for 
de Beauvoir, Fanon, Lacan, or Irigaray, a problematic identity. Reduced to a 
position that is always antithetical because always slipping, it is the identity that 

the rapists in Cisneros' novel impose on the narrator Esperanza, and that, in the 

next chapter, The Color Purple' s Celie falls into when her mother refuses her 

father's sexual advances. Thus Spivak's conditional: "[i]f, in the context of colonial 

production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as 

female is even more deeply in shadow" ("CSS?" 287). 

To this point, Spivak's essay has negotiated different politics of 
representation. She attends Deleuze and Foucaulf s texts explicitly as 
performances of an epistemic blind spot in regard to their own position as 
intellectuals, a quandary retrievable by work such as Derrida's which 
foregrounds not only similar issues through the discursive processes of the 
cogito, but also in terms of his own work as well. As we have seen, Spivak's own 
synchronously performative and iterative statements represent the position she 
would assume as a female academic. She sets her own self-representation — "As a 
postcolonial intellectual, I am influenced [. . .] Part of our 'unlearning' 
project" — between her invocations of Sarah Kofman and Freud ("CSS?" 296). 
Yet Spivak also deploys a tactics of delay, and performs her own Darstellung: her 
elucubrations, her populating the text with known academic voices, and her 
thrice repetition of the question "can the subaltern speak" effectively stage the 
appearance of her own tropological figure of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri. 7 

Earlier I stated that Spivak's phrase "identity is its difference" works as a 
chiasmus around the copula is (a tactic she deploys in other essays) in terms of 
the subaltern. Later, having brought Kofman' s critique of Freud, she cites 
Freud's analysis around the sentence "[a] child is being beaten" as inspiration for 
her own formation "white men are saving brown women from brown men" 
("CSS?" 296). My point is not the politics of Spivak's quoting Freud, nor with her 

own sentence: she explicates her rationale for both immediately afterward. It is 

7 Spivak also discusses another female subaltern suicide, Chuni Kotal who "as a woman daring 
to breach the general 'intellectual' establishment, took her own life under the weight of social 
prejudice" (Imaginary Maps xxvii): p.208 n.13 raises the spectre (of Spivak's spectre) of 
Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, comparing Bhaduri's situation to that of the derisive reception of "the 
public version of Chuni's suicide" by "upper-middle-class Indian- Americans". 

the statements that she subsequently provides and their motion toward ushering 

in the figure of Bhaduri that I address. Spivak pronounces her attempt "to 

borrow the general methodological aura of Freud's strategy toward the sentence 

he constructed as a sentence out of the many similar substantive accounts his 

patients gave him" ("CSS?" 297 italics original). By "aura" she invokes 

Benjamin's essay on mechanical reproduction, which sense she sets into tension 

with the phrase "as a sentence." She then qualifies her intention: she does not 

"offer a case of tranference-in-analysis as an isomorphic model for the 

transaction between reader and text (my sentence). The analogy between 

transference and literary criticism or historiography is no more than a 

productive catachresis. To say that the subject is a text does not authorize the 

converse pronouncement: the verbal text is a subject" ("CSS?" 297). By trying to 

"borrow the methodological aura" of Freud's strategy, she implicitly seeks that 

which is surplus to Freud's actual sentence — its puissance, that intangible which 

Benjamin insisted was the actual goal of reproduction. 

And yet in doing so toward "the sentence he constructed as a sentence," as 

a textual element coalesced from multiple referents but which signifies none of 

them and which would, as a sentence, enumerate its awn puissant 

supplementarity, she ends the process by foreclosing another chiasmus around 

another copula. "To say that the subject is a text does not authorize the converse 

pronouncement: the verbal text is a subject." Her prohibition of this chiasmus is 

simultaneously performative and constative: a reader, presumably, could not 

now perform the "transaction" she forbids by her prior forbidding it. Yet by 

forbidding it, she has denied her text the agency that would otherwise effect it as 

a subject, even though Freud's sentence has been, for more than two 

paragraphs, the subject of her own. She thereby discourages the bestowal of 

agency through the first chiasmus ("difference is its identity /identity is its 

difference") by retroactively encouraging it in her prohibition of the second 

chiasmus around the same iterative copula. "The paradox of knowing the limits 

of agency," she later announces, "is that the strongest assertion of agency, to 
negate the possibility of agency, cannot be an example of itself" ("CSS?" 299). 

This lengthy explanation is intended to foreground two further 
orchestrated stagings in Spivak's text: Bhaduri's own suicide, and Spivak's 
troping of Bhaduri into a theoretical figure. Spivak's deployment of this figure 
illustrates the axiom above. I will not reproduce here Spivak's narrative of 
Bhaduri, which is by now ubiquitous, beyond these basic elements: 
Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri, "[a] young woman of sixteen or seventeen" and 
member of an Indian independence movement, commits suicide in her father's 
apartment in 1926 when she cannot carry out the political assassination she has 
been charged with and does not want to betray the movement. To ensure that 
her family does not mistake her motive as an "illicit pregnancy," she waits until 
the beginning of he menstruation before killing herself. Spivak notes Bhaduri's 
"unemphatic, ad hoc, subaltern rewriting" of customs regarding widow-suicide, 
and her family's baffled reaction ("CSS?" 307-08, £ER 307-08). Bhaduri's actual 
motive was not discovered for a decade, in a letter to her sister. To this day, her 
family's descendants apparently do not understand, or do not care. By this 
illustration — the failure of Bhaduri's future relatives to understand the message 
Bhaduri wrote not only in her letter but also through her own suicide — Spivak 
pronounces at the end of the essay that "the subaltern [female] cannot speak" 
("CSS?" 308) Eleven years after publishing that essay, Spivak returns to it in A. 
Critique of Postcolo nial Reason and declares that her earlier summation "was an 
inadvisable remark" (CPR 308). Spivak blames neither Bhaduri nor the colonial 
system, she clarifies, but rather "her silencing by her own more emancipated 
granddaughters in the mainstream" who remain indifferent to Bhaduri's history 

Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri 

Within Spivak's narrative, Bhaduri is intransitively but not passively 
positioned between multiple discourses. As a woman, she is constructed in 
relation to masculist conventions of female decorum, and her youth is 
determined by the normativity of marriage expectations. These are elements of 
the context around sati that Spivak centres on. Bhaduri's participation in an 
Indian independence movement of 1926 marks her in relation to macrological 
British colonial rule, as a social, economic, nationalist and epistemological 
phenomenon. Thereby her status as woman is as a female colonial object. Her 
family's incomprehension and apparent lack of appreciation for her involvement 
in the independence movement — "Why, when her two sisters, Saileswari and 
Raseswari, led such full and wonderful lives, are you interested in the hapless 
Bhubaneswari?" ("CSS?" 308)— marks Bhaduri within the micrology of local 
phallopolitics. "You have the foreign elite and the indigenous elite," Spivak later 
embellishes, "[b]elow that you will have [omnidirectional vectors of] mobility. 
But then there is a space which is for all practical purposes outside those lines" 
("Subaltern Talk" 289). 8 

Yet for all this, "Bhubaneswari Bhaduri was not a 'true' subaltern. She was 
a woman of the middle class, with access, however clandestine, to the bourgeois 
movement for independence" (CJiR308). Her status as subaltern is therefore 
contingent upon her silencing. Spivak admits to non-specific definition of 
subaltern in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Her interviewers then posit "subaltern" 
as "an ever-receding horizon of possibility," and she tacitly agrees ("ST" 292). 
"There is, then, something of a not-speakingness in the very notion of 
subalterity," Spivak concedes ("ST" 289). Yet Bhaduri ostensibly chose speech. 
She did not remain silent, "abstain from all discourse [. . .] keep quiet, or else 
utter only a sound" (S_ 193). She chooses speech, and is only, post facto, silenced. 

8 Cited hereafter as "ST. 

Despite these strictures, Bhaduri evinces and represents, through her 

suicide and her suicide note, her own experience as woman, but also her 

knowledge of the masculist system that has so constructed her. She experiences 

being woman in those conditions, knows what it means to be so, and thus 

orchestrates a representation of that experience, played out across her body in 

menses. She literally becomes a "map or graph of knowing" who, by fiat of the 

misreception of her communique, becomes retrospectively "a map of the 

speaking being that is beyond its own grasp as other." But rather than a 

puissance, that "beyond" which Spivak invokes through Lacan in "A Literary 

Representation of the Subaltern," and to which Irigaray responds as well, poses 

another problematic not yet discussed in this context: the (also contradictory) 

mystification of puissance. 

As Spivak describes it, Bhaduri's action is counter-ideological, or has at 

least the potential to be so, in that it reverses the disjunctive contradiction of 

Marx, Fanon, and Lacan's senses. In Althusser's terms, of the figures we have 

seen, hers is the most accurate or synchronous representation of her imaginary 

relationship to her real conditions of existence. Bhaduri knows what she 

experiences and that she experiences it; she knows what she does and that she 

does so. Her delay until menstruation to specifically contextualize her indicates 

that Bhaduri was quite aware of her body, and that it was indelibly imbricated in 

the discourses surrounding her. She also evinces a knowledge of sexuality to the 

point that she forecloses it by her deliberately-staged suicide. Spivak would 

explain much later that "in the case of Bhubaneswari [. . . ] its is parts of the sexed 

body [i.e. menstruation] that are invested with meaning and yet are not heard 

and not read" (Imaginary Maps xxvii). Within her protest she ambivalently 

acknowledged and yet "annull[ed]" her body ("ST" 289), effecting a 

simultaneous rewriting of the texts of Gramsci and Lacan. Yet the certitude about 

her body that Bhaduri faced was not wholly her own, but from both "inside and 

outside:" imposed from without by the conventions and politics that surrounded 

her, yet enacted from within in keeping with her political convictions. 

For Spivak, woman represents her knowledge of her experience through 
both writing, and upon or through her own body. Bhaduri enacts an existential 
masculine activity in her suicide, yet that activity is her suicide. As excess, 
Bhaduri's suicide paradoxically forecloses sexual puissance — itself a deliberate act, 
given the specific timing and staging of her suicide. Even though Bhaduri knows 
how to represent her knowledge through the specific staging (Darstellung) of her 
suicide, her representation relies on, necessitates, her own destruction. Bhaduri 
turns even the mystic model of self-negation inside out: she destroys her 
selfhood with her body not as an attempt to join her subjectivity to that of a 
collectivity, but rather specifically to keep her subjectivity from coalescence into 
the collectivity of love-suicides. Her puissance is reappropriated — "I asked her 
nieces [; i]t appears that it was a case of illicit love" ("CSS?" 308). Spivak 
provisionally retrieves it, and then only as narrative, Bhaduri's family's to 
Spivak, and Spivak's to us. 

Yet Bhaduri's suicide does not have the intended result, does not 
communicate its message or successfully represent, for reasons analogous but 
irreducible to those of the "muteness" that the phallic, capital ear perceives in the 
message. Since Bhaduri's message is not comprehended by its intended 
recipients — "[h]er great-grandniece works for the New Empire" (CPR 
311) — hers is then an a posteriori alienation. "[S]he is not able to be heard, and 
speaking and hearing complete the speech act" ("ST" 292). Even as Bhaduri's 
vocabulary includes sexuality, menstruation, and marriage custom, she 
articulates these terms in a syntax incomprehensible to phallic ears . She uses 
them in different, improper senses — in a word, she tropes them. Her message, 
however, is eventually reinterpreted, literally re-presented, by both Bhaduri's 
contemporary family and by successive generations eventually integrated into 

the very phallocapital Bhaduri had protested. "She had tried to represent herself, 

through self-representation of the body," Spivak insists, "but it had not come 

through" ("Subaltern Talk" 306). 

"Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri" 

As I indicated earlier, Spivak's initial generic figure of the female subaltern 
in "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiographies" and "A Literary 
Representation of the Subaltern," of course, itself constitutes a representation. 
Spivak reads Mahasweta Devi's "Stanadayini" through her own prior figuration 
of "the subaltern." Embedded here remains a further figuration — that of 
Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri, a young Indian independence activist who through her 
suicide, Spivak insists, "had tried damned hard to represent herself" ("Subaltern 
Talk" 306). Bhaduri as also a theoretical figure, a textual trope created by Gayatri 
Spivak, returns us the the dialogue between Spivak and Lacan in my 
Introduction. In her explication of "Stanadayini," Spivak sets Draupadi's 
experience in opposition to what she terms "the singularity of the clitoral 
orgasm" ("LRS" 260). As we will see, in her own act of figuration almost a 
decade later, Spivak also places her Bhaduri into a sexual opposition. But as 
mentioned above, it is an opposition to those systems that would foreclose or 
manage puissant excess. 

"Can the Subaltern Speak?" renders Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri the referent 
into "Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri" the figure. Such a gesture can be regarded as 
typical — of course to discuss someone that individual must be textualized. Spivak 
runs through a series of figurations and representations that indicate a related 
series of ideological contradictions. Badhuri's suicide and suicide note, in Spivak's 
account, carry a specifically counter-sexed content, timed politically as well, both 
in terms of the local phallopolitics of her family and the nationalist post-colonial 
politics of India. As figured by Spivak, Bhaduri not only knows very well what she 
experiences, but also orchestrates how she represents that experience. 

In an early interview, Spivak declaimed that "[n]o one can quite articulate 

the space she herself inhabits," citing the analogous difficulties of linguistic and 

conceptual overdetermination women face as part of life in masculist and 

capitalist discourses (Post-colonial Critic 68). In "On Jouissance/'Lacan averred 

that "woman's sexual organ is of no interest (ne lui dit rien) except via the body's 

jouissance" - the phrase is also translatable as "woman's sexual organ says 

nothing to him except via the body's jouissance," indicating that to the phallic ear 

"woman's" sexual organ does not or cannot speak to "him," or that he does not 

recognize nor value whatever she might have to say (Fink 7). The former 

indicates a possibility of speech but not directed at the phallic ear; the latter 

indicates a speech-agency whose message is dismissed. 

Spivak's presentation of Bhaduri as an example is a complex textual 

strategy. On the one hand, Spivak grounds Bhaduri's figure in an implicit appeal 

to the pathos of the referent Bhaduri. Thus Spivak effects a move from the 

material, through the textual, to the material again. Yet Spivak gives only her 

own figuration of Bhaduri. As readers of Spivak's text, we never see Bhaduri's 

suicide note, nor Bhaduri's body. In both "Can the Subaltern Speak?" and A_ 

Critique of Postcolonial Reason we receive no more nor less of Bhaduri than we 

do of her relatives, including "her own more emancipated granddaughters" on 

whose ears Bhaduri's message falls flat (CPR 309). Spivak gives us Bhaduri the 

figure, but not Bhaduri's own suicide note. Likely, although Spivak does not 

clarify, the note was gone; Spivak encounters Bhaduri's tale through relatives. 

This point alone indicates the complex negotiations of representation, 

knowledge, experience, and jouissance that Lacan described: Bhaduri's tale falls 

into the au-dela, but is "intercepted" by Spivak (CER309). Nevertheless, we still 

do not get Bhaduri's note. We, along with Spivak, are denied Bhaduri's "voice" 

on the page. To appeal to the Bhaduri-referent, as I indicated previously, is futile. 

"Rather than reifying a voice of resistance or dissent," Srinivas Aravamudan 

suggests, "the act of reading makes available the differing mechanisms of agency 

that traverse texts, contexts, and agents themselves" (Aravamudan 14). The fact 

that the only Bhaduri we will ever probably receive is that intercepted from 

obscurity by Spivak, lends Bhaduri's example its poignancy. 

Let me set Spivak's strategy into asymptosis with that of arguments about 
the mystic figure in de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray for a moment. Critics 
complain that the latter three writers either do not give enough of, or misuse, 
the texts— metaphorized as "voice"— of the mystics themselves, regardless that 
those texts are themselves no more than representations. Such criticisms 
ironically protest de Beauvoir, Lacan and Irigaray's textuality through soi-disant 
materialist arguments that nonetheless ground themselves in appeals for more 
text. Granted, the mystics' texts are material artefacts. But to reduce them to 
material artefacts forecloses the puissant element that exceeds such arguments: 
despite their materiality, such texts are themselves simultaneously 
representations in the Althusserian sense. As representations, they enact their 
own puissant excess, as both performative and constative. 

Spivak does not or cannot provide either of Bhaduri's "texts" — neither her 
suicide note, nor her body. On the one hand we have texts from mystics that 
critics accuse de Beauvoir, Lacan, and Irigaray of ignoring in favor of a general or 
generic figure of the mystic. On the other hand, we have Spivak's figure of 
Bhaduri without her concomitant referent-texts. My point is not to indict Spivak 
on the same charges whereby critics such as Hollywood and Grosz condemn de 
Beauvoir, Lacan and Irigaray. Rather, my point is that St. Teresa's own texts, and 
Spivak's text on Bhaduri, are each no more nor less than representations. We are 
no closer to St. Teresa through her texts than we are to Bhaduri through Spivak's 
texts on her. While each text indicates and represents a specific and distinct 
referent, at the level of representation the figures are distinguishable only by 
one's deployment of the first person, and the other's consignment to the third 

person. St. Teresa is valorized because there's a textual "I" ascribable to her 

through her text. De Beauvoir, Lacan and Irigaray's mystic is criticized because 

there is "only" a "she" appended to her— she exists only as the word "she." Yet 

no less does Spivak's Bhaduri persist as only a "she." 

Yet, paradoxically, by the same logic we have something that exceeds 
those referents: the figurations. This statement does not imply that, a la 
Baudrillard, everything is copy, simulacra, figuration. Such a despair reduces the 
creativity and work that go into a sustained, deliberate maintenance of figuration 
as jouissant supplement. To value St. Teresa's texts because of the first-person 
and yet deny the same value to the trope or figure of "the mystic" who is 
nonetheless based in part on St. Teresa's texts is to perpetrate an ideological 
mystification. Commentary positive and negative abounds on Fanon's reliance 
on existentialism, Hegel, and psychoanalysis. Fanon ignores women; Fanon 
exploits the veil. Yet none ever attends his colonized Negro as a figure, especially 
in a text that itself invokes poetry and novels and sets them at precisely the same 
value as "experience." 

These representations, I suggest, are simultaneously constative and 
performative in terms of knowledge and experience. They enact a knowledge 
and evince an experience of that knowledge, at the same time that they indicate 
their writers' own knowledge. Given such a confluence of elements, I turn in my 
next and final chapter to Alice Walker's The Color Purple whose characters 
illustrate complex negotiations of ideology and 'puissance. 


Spivak has located in Lacan's own texts, as have numerous others, an 
overdetermination by his conviction of the conceptual centrality of the phallus. 
"Thus," Spivak suggests, for Lacan, "when thought thinks itself a place that 
cannot be known, that always escapes the proof of reproduction, it thinks [. . .] of 
the jouissance of the woman" ("LRS" 259). I have already offered a cautiously 

sympathetic reading of Lacan in Chapter Four, whereby we may derive Lacan 

himself as example of the very conceptual overdetermination that he proposes a 

"puissance beyond the phallus" to expose. Spivak ventures, however, that were 

we to think through the same dynamic without Lacan's phallic determinations, 

puissance "would still be the place where an unexchangeable excess can be 

imagined and figured forth" ("LRS" 259). This latter, Spivak opines, "is woman's 

puissance in the general sense" ("LRS" 259). This particular formulation coincides 

with that outlined by Irigaray in the concept of the mystic that stems from 

Speculum through to Sexes and Genealogies. 

Yet one of Spivak' s purported aims in her essay is "to acknowledge our 
complicity in the muting" (CPR 309). Bhaduri's muting is a posteriori, retroactive. 
Figuratively and literally,it is paradoxical: ow to mute or silence that which has 
already been uttered, that which has already escaped the speaker? Spivak's 
example of Bhaduri gives the lie to Irigaray's figure of the mystic, by showing 
that even when she does know what she does and what she experiences while 
she experiences it, and that she then articulates, represents, that experience and 
thereby formulates a knowledge of it contiguous to the knowledge that the 
experience itself comprises, "woman" as subaltern "cannot speak" — at least not 
directly. Her speech, articulation, representation, is indirect, second-hand, muted, 
hushed — and at the expense of the woman's life. 

Spivak and Irigaray's proposals are similar only insofar as each avers that 
the female subject indeed knows what she experiences (in language) and 
represents that knowledge. To Irigaray, woman represents that knowledge by 
either her deliberate mimicry of masculine theological language, to the effect of 
indicating that language's limitations, or through the deliberacy of her 
mimicking the silence already ascribed to her or to which she is already 
consigned. As many Irigaray commentators note, this last prospect remains 
dubious, as it potentially leaves women "even more deeply in shadow" ("CSS?" 


Irigaray proposes "keeping quiet" out of examples of women who 
already have, while Spivak avers that "the subaltern cannot speak" given her 
circumstances — so what Irigaray proposes appears not so much a necessity but 
a luxury, a choice for those who apparently already have sufficient agency to do 
so. Spivak's example, however, shows that the subaltern can speak, as Abena 
Busia and others imply, but indirectly. So, ideology, as figured here, is negotiable 
but indirectly, and at the cost of a woman's life. These figures descriptions' echo 
those of the subject-in-ideology because it's through their representation that 
they evade. 

Earlier I indicated that Spivak reconfigures the Lacanian "beyond" as "the 
place where an unexchangeable excess can be imagined and figured forth" to 
combat/ escape "the line where an unexchangeable excess is tamed into 
exchange", i.e. where it falls prey to mystification ("LRS" 259). Through the 
development of the Marxian notion of "ideology," and with their irreducibility 
firmly in mind, I find Spivak's proposal analogous to Luce Irigaray's in Speculum 
of the Other Woman and This Sex Which Is Not One where Irigaray asks "[b]ut 
what if these 'commodities' [i.e. women] refused to go to 'markef ? What if they 
maintained 'another' kind of commerce, among themselves? Exchanges without 
identifiable terms, without accounts, without end" (This Sex 196). 

Spivak posits that "we cannot compute the line where puissance in the 
general sense [the place where an unexchangeable excess can be imagined and 
figured forth] shifts into puissance in the narrow sense ['the opposition between 
vaginal satisfaction and clitoral orgasm']. But we can propose that, because 
puissance is where an unexchangeable excess is tamed into exchange [. . .] it [. . .] 
is where signification emerges" ("LRS" 259). "Knowledge is played out or 
mapped out on the entire map of the speaking being, thought is the puissance or 
excess of being," as Spivak posits ("LRS"261). In reaction to Lacan's statement in 


"A Love Letter" that "The unconscious presupposes that in the speaking being 
there is something, somewhere, which knows more than he does" (ES_ 159). She 
responds that "If this is taken to mean that the subject (speaking being) is more 
like a map or graph of knowing rather than an individual subject that knows, a 
limit to the claim to power of knowledge is inscribed" ("LRS" 258). 

"[Tfhere is always something in [woman] that escapes discourse," Lacan 
avers (Fink 33). When, as quoted earlier, Spivak explains that "[b]etween 
patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure 
of the woman disappears," she carefully notes that "the figure of the woman 
disappears not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is 
the displaced figuration of the 'third-world woman' caught between tradition 
and modernization" ("CSS?" 306). Something remains of woman, even if 
displaced; de Beauvoir and Irigaray both also recognize this possibility. This 
displaced something echoes in the figure of the Western mystic and the female 
subaltern within a mesh of ideology and power/ knowledge. 

Even if they didn't "hear" her, Bhaduri's family is still, ostensibly, talking 
about her. She may not have penetrated their consciousnesses in the way she 
wanted to — she's still upheld as a case tragic for her abandonment of 
womanliness rather than for her desperation and expressive entrapment. Along 
with the appropriation of her message is Spivak's own invocation. Yes, the 
subaltern cannot speak, and yet she does, even if through Spivak's figuration of 
her. The potential was there as long as people talked about Bhaduri, 
remembered her — Spivak's own text of course disproves her own statement; so 
like Radhakrishnan & Zizek's concern for puissance's appropriability, Spivak's 
representation of Bhaduri and Bhaduri's act exceeds the event-horizon of its 
efficacy as Spivak herself describes it. Her own figuration enables this process. 


I don't know nothing, I think. And glad of it. 

— Celie, The Color Purple 

When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. 

— Shug, The Color Purple 

Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple offers a literary representation of 
the complexities of ideological mediation, and of mediation by ideology, by 
women disenfrachised by race, sex and class. Each of the female characters 
inhabits and constitutes a different situation in, and negotiation with, ideology. 
Each of those characters also effects different strategies within ideology, 
mediated by their relative interactions with racism and concomitant class 
inequity. Most studies of Walker's novel focus on the separation, growth, 
endurance, and reunion of the sisters Celie and Nettie, divided from each other 
by the vicissitudes of race, sex, and class in both rural Georgia and rural colonial 
Africa. Certainly, both Celie and Nettie, as literary representations of raced and 
sexed female ideological subjects, remain likewise alienated from themselves. 
Through their letters, both seek to represent to each other and themselves, to 
paraphrase Althusser, an imaginary relationship to their real conditions of 
existence. As we will see, their representations and the resulting imaginaries 
exceed those conditions. 

Celie also works through the possible reappropriation of puissant excess 

by oppressive ideological structures. Both the content and the (grammatical and 

thematic) style of her letters effect jouissant negotiations of the situations she 

addresses. Within these letters, Celie also depicts the complex relations to and 


negotiations of ideology effected by the novel's secondary character Shug. By 

Shug's example, as well as Celie's own prose that exceeds the bounds 

ideologically determined for it, Celie creates a contemplative space irreducible to 

rhetorics of exteriority/ inferiority that would reappropriate her writing into 

ideological mystification in the negative sense. 


The novel opens in a double gesture that indicates the discontinuity 
between Celie's knowledge and her experience. An unidentified voice issues the 
injunction "You better not never tell nobody but God" (1). This injunctive first 
gesture inaugurates the second gesture: Celie's letters to God. Yet within this 
scope, Celie also writes to, and includes letters from, her sister Nettie. (As I will 
indicate in a moment, the injunction may be read as ideological both by its 
contradiction, and by the knowledges and experiences it directs and prohibits.) 
The second gesture compounds the ambiguous ideological work of the first 
gesture: by the time we encounter Nettie's letters — represented through the 
frame of Celie's own epistolary narration — just whom the uncredited injunction 
addresses becomes ambiguous. While, within the context of the story, the 
injunction may have been addressed directly to Celie, the frame of Celie's 
narration also effectively applies the injunction to Nettie. 

In such terms, the injunction itself constitutes an ideological gesture along 
the lines described by Althusser. One of the effects, neither purely material nor 
immaterial, of ideology theorized by Althusser is the "hail," the communicative 
address that "'recruits' subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or 
'transforms' the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all)" (174). Such an 
address, issued generically, takes its function when received 
individually — "subjectivity" in such instances becomes an effect of individuals' 
assumption that the hail was for them. Thus subjects project a naturalness to the 
event of the hail, and assume the event as "outside of ideology" (175). Given her 

existential situation 1 — young, female, black, and poor in rural, patriarchal, racist 

Georgia — Celie cannot, of course, ignore the hail. The material conditions that 

determine her are the same that determine the inevitability of her response to 

the hail. Celie thereby assigns herself subjectivity through her response to it. She 

internalizes not only the hail, but also its accompanying and encoded 

knowledges, which represent a particular "self" to her. 

Celie would operate, apparently, from an Engelsian false consciousness, 

where "the real motives impelling [her] remain unknown to [her]" (Engels 511). 

Thereby, as the later revelation "Pa not pa" illustrates, Celie's knowledge is 

mediated, if not overdetermined, from her beginnings — else the accompanying 

revelations "My daddy lynch[,] My mama crazy[,] All my little half-brothers and 

sisters no kin to me[,] My children not my sister and brother" could neither so 

impact her nor effect such a dramatic anagnorisis (Walker 183). Such mediations 

would, ostensibly, alienate her from herself. 2 Those same conditions, however, 

indicate complexities that Engels' concept would oversimplify: it predicates a self 

outside that of ideological mediation, from which Celie would be alienated. 

Equally, those same mediations complicate the existential notion of ideology as 

bad faith, which posits the deliberacy of bad faith as a simultaneous knowing and 

doing: one remains always "in possession of the truth which he is hiding" and 

therefore "does not lie about what he is in ignorance of" (B££ 48). Celie cannot 

"lie to herself," cannot perform a particularly scripted self to both herself and 

others in contradiction to an equally presumed prior or external (existentially 

1 "As understood by the French existentialists, a writer's situation, like other human situations, 
is a given, in the sense that the writer is historically situated by circumstances beyond 
individual control, including social, linguistic, and political circumstances, and is 
characterized by facticity — that is, embodied as man or woman, of a certain race, in a world of 
material objects. Yet the idea of situation as a given entails also that of a response: one cannot 
refrain from responding to circumstances, rejecting or accepting them, and, ultimately, choosing 
oneself on the basis of circumstances" (Brosman 29). 

2 In the sense of Entfremdung, "ontological error perpetrated by philosophy in collaboration 
with political economy" (CPR 59 n.74). 

"actual") self, if her knowledge of herself has been overdetermined by racist, 

classist and sexist discourses' representations. 

Yet even if Celie cannot not respond to that particular hail, and even if her 

material conditions determine the content of her response, a. puissant element 

occurs in terms of the method of her response. As Spivak insists, "[o]ne cannot 

of course 'choose' to step out of ideology. The most responsible "choice" seems 

to be to know it as best one can, recognize it as best one can, and, through one's 

necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to change it" ("POI" 120). Celie's 

response encompasses multiple senses "respond." She recognizes the hail and its 

authority. Yet she reconfigures the nature of the hail. She answers it as if it were a 

question. In so doing she intervenes in the Althusserian and Zizekian formula of 

interpellation. As much as she confirms her subjectivity through her response 

and is thereby reduced to an object, her narrative not only changes the hail into a 

request but also offers it more than it either requested or can accommodate. 

Celie's narrative overflows the bounds set by the hail as a means of 

objectification. In an analogous context, Fanon indicates in Black Skin. White 

Masks that the object (as marked from the vantage of the soi-disant subject) 

"loves to jabber." 3 Yet whereas Fanon interprets only the dismissive element in 

such statements, Celie's letters as an excessive response to the anonymous hail 

foregrounds an abhorrence of superfluity revealed in that statement. As much as 

"jabber" indicates childish nattering, it also indicates "incessant" speech — an 

object who will not shut up. Through her letters, Celie comes "to know [the 

working of ideology] as best [she] can" in Spivak's terms, "recognize it as best 

[she] can, and, through [her] necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to 

change it" ("POI" 120). As her response to the hail, Celie's narrative and the 

realizations it effects work to undo the conditions which the hail presupposes. 

3 "On dit que le Noir aime les palabres": translating "les palabres" as "jabber" misses its other 
meanings of "interminable discussion" or "chattering" (PN.MB 41). 

Celie's letters indicate that while one cannot necessarily ignore the ideological 

hail, one can mediate its terms in the manner of one's response. 

From this ideological context, the first of Celie's letters focuses on the 
discontinuity between Celie's knowledge and experience of her own situation. It 
evinces, first, Celie's ignorance about her situation and her experience: "I am 
fourteen years old. tarn I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me 
a sign letting me know what is happening to me" (1). Young Celie's pregnancies, 
the results of her stepfather Alphonso's rapes, exemplify experiences for which 
she has no respective knowledge, and about which she cannot as yet formulate a 
knowledge. Thereby, her epistolary "confessions" also simultaneously constitute 
requests for information about her experience addressed, in de Beauvoir's terms, 
to the "supreme source of value" — to that which ostensibly lies outside and 
beyond the realm of mediation. 

As we discover later in the novel, Celie has been both actively lied to and 
passively left ignorant about her own parentage and that of her children. 
Arguably, such instances are examples more of deliberate misinformation or sins 
of omission than of false ideological grounding. Neither would the letter from 
the State Department erroneously declaring the demise of the boat returning 
Nettie to the U.S. (262), or even Corinne's misapprehension of Nettie and 
Samuel's relationship or Olivia and Adam's parentage (180-82), qualify as 
instances resulting in false consciousness. Each of these elements does, however, 
reverberate the material and immaterial ideological environment and 
mechanisms that pervade both Celie and Nettie's lives: the material conditions of 
impoverished post-bellum blacks in the U.S. rural south, already poor lines of 
communication exacerbated by white disruption of black families, racist labor 
practices, lynching, and patriarchal codes that disrupt communication between 
black women. Nettie's letters from Africa, which record the echoes she notes 
between ideological conditions in Georgia and those she witnesses in the Olinka 

village, indicate a reproduction of the conditions that alienate her from an 

understanding of her conditions. The fate of the Olinka people that Nettie 

narrates to Celie, a violent contradiction between their knowledge of themselves 

(as "people") and the real conditions of existence foisted on them by colonizing 

English rubber plantation builders, also illustrates the experience of ideological 

disjuncture rather than the disjuncture itself. 

In each case, the element of narrative, of a subject representing and 
thereby developing a knowledge of her own experience, becomes crucial. In two 
senses, Celie does not simply "tell" as the unidentified voice enjoins. In the most 
obvious sense, Celie writes to God rather than simply praying: her letters to God 
eventually comprise an experience in themselves. Nettie later recalls to Celie, "I 
remember one time you said your life made you feel so ashamed you couldn't 
even talk about it to God, you had to write it" (136). Celie's letters' "telling" or 
articulation constitutes an ongoing formation of knowledge that amasses as her 
letters multiply. After her initial character disclaimer "I have always been a good 
girl," Celie engages the second sense: she further prefaces her telling with a 
request for knowledge. She begs clarification or revelation of what otherwise 
remains hidden, obscure, mysterious; as yet, she remains ignorant of the 
concomitant sense of mystery as that which can be known, but not through 
official or customary epistemic rubrics. Not until much later in the novel, at Shug 
Avery's instigation, will Celie come to realize (in both the generic and existential 
senses) not only different modes of knowing, but also how she had formulated 
the "supreme source of value" to which she had appealed. 

From the first of Celie's letters, "telling" and "asking" become almost the 
same mode, expiation and expatiation. 4 As Lacan posited in Seminaire XX. one 
can articulate one's awareness of an experience, even if, due to linguistic and 
ideological overdeterminations, one does not "know" what one has experienced: 

4 See Chapter 1, note 6 for my parallel discussion of the pair expiate-expatiate vis-a-vis the 
writings of St. Teresa as Barthesian "text[s] of puissance." 

an experience "proper to her and of which she may know nothing, except that 

she experiences if (Lacan 145). "Telling," as testimony of experiences about 
which the speaking subject remains ignorant, becomes indesociable from the 
very means by which Celie seeks the necessary knowledge through which to 
read her experience. Celie's initial letters pose her as, in Spivak's terms, "a map 
of the speaking being that is beyond its own grasp as other" ("LRS" 259). As I 
discussed in Chapter 1, a subject or self so figured remains alienated from the 
very map of knowing that she herself constitutes. Such a subject effectively 
cannot "read" herself 5 — but nonetheless speaks or writes — whereas such a 
subject nevertheless experiences herself and her situation as "woman." By such 
definition, Celie's situation becomes ideological, and her experience of it 
contradictory. The Lacan statement noted above proposes, however, a counter- 
mediating puissance which exceeds ideological determination, which such 
determinations cannot either predict or formulate a knowledge for. Celie's 
letters become, simultaneously, the articulation by which she seeks to formulate 
her own knowledge of her own experience, as well as a collective puissant 
experience in themselves that disrupts the knowledge /experience contradiction 
presumed by ideology. 

At this point in the novel, Celie knows better than to request information 
directly, and so she instead asks God for "a sign." By requesting "a sign letting me 
know what is happening to me" Celie asks for, to modify Althusser's formula, a 
representation of her real conditions of existence by which to formulate an 
imaginary relationship to her experience. As Fredric Jameson insists, the 
"unknowable" is not "unrepresentable" (Postmodernism 53): similarly, Terry 
Eagleton (chez Kant and Husserl) invokes the sublime as "an object which cannot 
be represented" (151), which sense informs Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideolog y as 
ideology's object-that-cannot-be-represented. Celie does not, and indeed at this 

5 «Pour-soi» in de Beauvoir's existentialist terms. See my initial discussion of de Beauvoir's 
proposals in Chapter One, and my elaborations in Chapter Four. 

point cannot yet, ask for the ability to formulate her own knowledge. Neither 

does she ask to be initiated into a system of knowledge. Rather, she asks God to 

"let" her know, to issue a representation of something that supposedly exists 

elsewhere but to which she as yet has no direct access. Celie's plaintive gesture 

performatively recapitulates the contradictions that surround her: she addresses 

a source presumably beyond the realm of mediation, only to request a mediated 

representation of her experience. Whether from her religious training, her 

familiarity with phallic power that for all purposes collapses God and the other 

males around her, or an intersection of the two, Celie knows the futility of direct 


But the anonymous injunction "You better never not tell nobody but 

God[;] If d kill your mammy" already announces the simultaneous and 

contradictory possibilities for Celie's production of her own knowledge of her 

own experience. Celie can create her own knowledge, can represent her 

experience to herself, but that knowledge and representation can easily be 

reappropriated by the very epistemic systems she seeks to negotiate. As the 

anonymous injunction dictates, she writes directly to God because she cannot tell 

anyone else. Or rather, she should not tell anyone else: "You better not never tell 

nobody but God" (emphasis mine). The anonymous voice ambivalently issues a 

possible threat, but also suggests a course of action. The voice directs Celie in 

how to textually subvert her ideological status. She can tell, but only to that 

supreme source of value. If her imaginary relation to her real conditions of 

existence remain mystified, then she has recourse only to that which lies outside, 

beyond — to God. The anonymous injunction intimates, however, that she indeed 

has direct access to, and a knowledge of, her experience, else she would have 

nothing to tell. The injunction thereby also foregrounds levels of ideological 

mediation — patriarchal, racial, familial — that seek to mystify (in the negative 

sense) the relation between the knowledge she has of her experience, as well as 

the experience of 'her knowledge. Knowing is also always an experience: knowing 

also entails a recognition that one knows. This is not a recourse to the Cartesian 
cogito, not a confirmation of one's existence. Rather, it is a particular experience of 
existence. Hence Spivak's statement that "thought is the puissance of being": 
thought and knowledge are those things that escape reduction to being or 
ontology. They do not indicate so much a lack in being, as they indicate limits to 
given concepts or notions of what "being" means ('LRS" 261). Even if their 
content is materially determined, thought and knowledge, by their occurrence, 
indicate the limits of materiality. The injunction's emphatic "better" anticipates 
that she would eventually tell anyway. 

Yet the second half of the injunction, "If d kill your mammy," also 
threatens to curtail the excess effected by her telling. This proviso maintains a 
repressive ideological order by limiting Celie's discourse on, and thereby her 
formation of knowledge about, her experience. Celie is emotionally manipulated 
into a particular course of action that can easily reintegrate the energy exerted by 
her telling back into the very system she writes against. Again, Nettie's reminder 
to Celie that "1 remember one time you said your life made you feel so ashamed 
you couldn't even talk about it to God, you had to write it" evinces the 
sociological and ideological power of reinscription exercised by shame (136). The 
excess that Celie's letters pose remains susceptible to ideological reappropriation, 
as Slavoj Zizek posits: "this leftover, Jar from hindering the full submission of the 
subject to the ideological command, is the very condition of it: it is precisely this non- 
integrated surplus [. . .] which confers on the Law its unconditional authority" 
(SOI 43-44). Inasmuch as the stipulation "but God" posits an excess, a beyond, to 
which Celie can appeal, the terminal statement "If d kill your mammy" threatens 
to foreclose the letters' potential radicality. The puissance that the excess of 
Celie's letters poses thereby offers a workable negotiation rather than a too- 
easily reinscribable confrontation. 

As Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan avers, mystification in the negative sense 

results from the assumption that "lived realities can be expressed without formal 

mediation. Realities are always mediated, but what needs radical transformation 

is the mode of mediation" (70). As puissant texts, the doors proposed by Barthes 

through which both ideology and the imaginary "flow," Celie and Nettie's 

letters thereby pose ambiguous modes of mediation and negotiation (EL 13-14). 

Celie and Nettie initially mediate their realities through addressing another (God 

or eventually each other) of whose existence they remain unsure, often writing 

each other without response. 6 Yet by the same token that their discourses would 

be sufficiently disjointed to foreclose puissant possibility, since an exchange 

would enact a "formal" mediation counter to that of the "formal" (i.e. 

patriarchal, racist, classist) mediations surrounding them, Celie and Nettie's 

letters also intimate a counter problematic within the very element of 

"formal[ity]" in Radhakrishnan and Zizek's conceptualizations of reappropriable 


As I indicated earlier, mystery and mystification carry the doubled and 

contradictory denotations of the knowable and unknowable, differentiated only 

by epistemic mode and rubric. This paradox effects a counter-contradiction to 

ideological mystification that nevertheless remains irreducible to mystification. 

Such a doubled sense of the knowable effects "knowledge's" own puissant 

excess, and disrupts the dialectic of knowledge and experience by denying any 

stable or monolithic sense of knowledge. Radhakrishnan and Zizek invoke 

mystery only as it denotes unknowability or obscurity, and thereby adopt the 

Marxian collapsing of mystery and mystification. Such perspectives overlook 

that always disruptive aspect of puissance as a radicality that, while admittedly 

always in danger of reappropriation, also always, by its own excess, disrupts any 

6 Even after Shug and Celie discover the letters from Nettie that Albert had hidden, Celie and 
Nettie's letters evince no connection. We later discover that the letters do not correspond: when 
on the same day that Celie receives a telegram erroneously supposing Nettie's drowning, she 
also receives all her own letters to Nettie, unopened. 

stable field of foreclosure. To risk a tautology, such views overlook the element 

that constitutes puissance as an element of discursive and epistemological 

interest: the excess of 'excess, the overflow and beyond (au-dela) that makes excess 

excessive. 7 

Not all mediations are "formal" in the sense of official or sanctioned. Were 
they so, the circumstances determining the failure of Celie and Nettie's letters to 
actually correspond would irretrievably consign the sisters to their existential 
situations. Celie's letters exceed the proscription of the initial anonymous 
injunction. They might well have ended with Celie's realization of the conditions 
of her parentage and that of her own children, with "Pa not pa"(183). The letters 
continue past this point, however, and do not cease issue until Celie is reunited 
with Nettie, Olivia and Adam. Celie's horizon exceeds the ideological bounds to 
which her letters initially respond. For both Nettie and Celie, the performative 
act of writing exceeds both their material conditions and the knowledges that 
those conditions determine, and offers both Celie and Nettie a representational 
means by which to formulate a knowledge of their real conditions of existence. 

Having learned to write under circumstances that at best discouraged 
writing, Celie and Nettie formulate a mode of knowledge that exceeds "formal" 
modes. They effect a puissant substitute 8 : the structure of the letter form as itself 
a negotiation, as a recognition or response that is also a contemplation. By 
composing letters, Nettie and Celie not only identify the ideological strictures 
that pervade their lives, but also reason their way through them, or figure how 
to subvert or circumvent them. Their experience of their own knowledge, 

7 Even though late in SOI Zizek proposes, as Anthony Elliot explains, that "ideology always 
outstrips its own social and political forms; it is a realm beyond interpellation or 
internalization" (Elliott 116). This particular sense of "beyond" does not clearly coincide with 
the puissance invoked by any of the writers I have included. 

8 Here I invoke Ellie Ragland-Sullivan's notion that" [jbuissance means sexual pleasure, but at 
an abstract level it could be described as the temporary pleasure afforded by substitute objects 
or by others' recognition (substitutes for the original other)" (271). Celie and Nettie's letters, as 
I describe them here, particularly mediate the reappropriability that Ragland-Sullivan's 
definition entails. 

through representing it to themselves, allows them a subsequent knowledge 

that exceeds the strictures of external mediation (Albert hiding Nettie's letters 

from Celie, white interference in black education) or circumstance (the failure of 

Celie's letters to reach Nettie). By the texf s final letter from Celie, her addressee 

both includes and exceeds "God" to whom her first letters complained: "Dear 

God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God" 

(292).Celie and Nettie exemplify that both knowledge and experience remain 

more than, in excess of, available epistemic modes. 

Yet the "mystery" about which Celie pleads illumination in her first 
letter — "Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to 
me" — itself remains ambiguous. While Celie has been initiated into not only 
adult sexuality, but also the specific situation of women of the black underclass in 
the mutually-informed racial and sexual economies of rural Georgia, nothing has 
as yet initiated her into a corresponding knowledge of her own. In Lacan's terms 
of the network of phallic linguistic overdeterminations on the female speaking 
ideological subject, Celie experiences, and knows that she experiences, but knows 
not what she experiences. She remains simultaneously, and contradictorily, 
initiated and uninitiated. 

This contradiction results, ironically, from an absence of representation. 
When Celie gives birth to Olivia and Adam, she remains alienated from the 
experience by a set of specific mediations: her lack of biological knowledge of 
intercourse and pregnancy; her stepfather Alphonso's spiriting away of the 
babies; and the accusative ravings of her mother, deranged by numerous 
pregnancies, her first husband's lynching by white shopkeepers who found his 
business threatening, and her second husband Alphonso's continued sexual 
advances and callousness. Celie's alienation thereby derives from an intersection 
of race, sex, and class discourses that, rather than misrepresent her relations to 
her material situation, offer no representation at all. Told by Alphonso "You 

gonna do what your mammy wouldn't [. . .] You better shut up and git used to 

it"(l-2), Celie is assigned a function without an associated representation of 

herself. At fourteen, Celie has nothing out of which to form any relation to her 

material conditions, and thereby remains mystified by a representational gap. 

Celie's alienation from knowledge about her pregnancy is compounded 
by her mother's inability to initiate her into a respective knowledge: "She ast me 
about the first one Whose it is? I say God's. I don't know no other man or what 
else to say. When I start to hurt and then my stomach start moving and then that 
little baby come out my pussy chewing on it fist you could have knock me over 
with a feather" (3). Denial of both education and a communicative relationship 
with her mother effects a discontinuity whereby Celie does not connect her 
pregnancy to Alphonso raping her when her mother refuses his advances. 
Alphonso steals Celie's children, ostensibly telling Celie that he took them into 
the woods and killed them (3). He and the socioeconomic circumstances that 
compel him to sell his children by Celie deny her the connective knowledge that 
Celie might derive from experiencing motherhood. 

In terms similar to, but situationally distinct from, Julia Kristeva's 
discussion of maternal alienation, "'[i]t happens, but I'm not there.' 'I cannot 
realize it, but it goes on.' Motherhood's impossible syllogism" (Desire in 
Lang ua g e 237). Kristeva describes the socio-biological distance between a 
mother and her child necessitated by phallocracy to maintain the Symbolic order, 
and by capitalism to maintain the alienating production mechanism, which 
Kristeva formulates as the alienating distance between knowing (as realization) 
and doing (as experience) played out on the female body. Given the 
overdeterminations of racism at work through Celie which Kristeva does not yet 
consider, however, Kristeva's syllogism would doubly alienate Celie and 
compound her ideological mystification by exacerbating the disjuncture between 
her knowledge and her experience, her knowledge as experience. 

Yet as I indicated, despite these numerous and interrelated strictures and 

foreclosures, Celie nevertheless slowly formulates her own knowledge of her 

own experience that runs counter to that issued by the formal mediations and 

representations she receives through Albert and his son Harpo. Two particular 

elements effect her representation of her own real conditions to herself, and help 

her mediate the ideological knowledges that otherwise pervade her life: her 

writing, and her love for Shug Avery. Each enacts a different sense of puissance, 

although both engage an excess, a beyond. Both her own writing and her 

relationship with Shug provide Celie with knowledges and modes of knowledge 

which differ from, and exceed, those otherwise circumscribed by the intersection 

of racist, patriarchal, and classist discourses she inhabits. Through their 

simultaneous deployment of the multiple senses of puissance, 9 Celie' s letters and 

her love of Shug complicate the ways in which puissance potentially disrupts the 

contradictory knowledge and experience to which Celie's situation would 

otherwise consign her. 

Celie's writing combines puissant elements neither solely de Beauvoirean, 

Irigarayan, nor Spivakian. Rather, the acts of writing that Celie performs play 

through aspects of each, indicating the possibilities for puissance's very 

multiplicity. Thereby, Celie — even if in a restricted sense which I will elaborate 

below in my discussion of the novel's secondary characters — effects a strategic 

approach to ideology of the kind proposed by Spivak:"[o]ne cannot of course 

'choose' to step out of ideology. The most responsible "choice" seems to be to 

know it as best one can, recognize it as best one can, and, through one's 

necessarily inadequate interpretation, to work to change it" ("POI" 120). To 

9 See Chapter 2 for my discussion of the variant senses of puissance. The glossary Leon Roudiez 
provides in the introductory material to Julia Kristeva's Desire in Lang ua g e also provides a 
readable discussion of this mercurial concept, particularly as deployed by Francophone and 
Anglophone feminisms. In context of Lacan and Kristeva's adjectival qualifications of the term, 
Roudiez notes the multiplicity of puissance: "puissance is sexual, spiritual, conceptual at one 
and the same time" (16). In their own ways, Barthes, Cixous, Irigaray, and Derrida also 
include "textual" to these senses, given their respective discussions of textual excess and 

reiterate my discussions of Spivak in Chapters 1 and 5, Spivak upsets Marx's 

proposal in Capital which holds that ideology is by definition not knowing. 

Similarly, she hedges on Althusser's proposal of the "representation of the 

subject's Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence" by 

positing "one's necessarily inadequate interpretation." 

Like Celie's epistolary praxis, Spivak's formulations of subjectivity and 
agency in ideology also play between those of de Beauvoir's notion of "bad 
faith" (because of the element of "choice" upon which Spivak insists) and 
Irigaray's spatial metaphor of shuttling. Spivak folds de Beauvoir's proposal that 
"no woman can claim, without bad faith, to situate herself beyond her sex" (S£ 
xx) back on itself, since good and bad faiths each constitute a choice, but for 
Spivak within (apparently) overdetermined bounds, since "Within a broad 
concept of ideology, the subject does not lose its power to act or resist but is seen 
as irretrievably plural" ("POI" 122). Irigaray proposes "an effort — for one cannot 
simply leap outside that [phallocentric] discourse — to situate [oneself] at its 
borders and to move continuously from the inside to the outside" (This Sex 122). 
Irigaray's reliance on mimicry indicates a performative disruption of the 
inside /outside dichotomy, which further complicates her own proposal. Spivak 
(and here I emphasize "step out of" where Spivak applies "choose") refutes such 
a dichotomy outright, effecting a Derridean deconstruction of inside /outside, of 
exteriority tout court, and implies one's need to negotiate the situation by 
recognizing it as ideological — a gesture toward her redefinition, which is Celie's as 
well, of de Beauvoir's notion. 

De Beauvoir posits a masculine-active quality to women's writing as a 
way to create a knowledge around "bad faith." Yet as I discussed earlier, de 
Beauvoir's conception of agency figured through the ideological network within 
which women operate, encounters a fundamental aporia. If for de Beauvoir 
"activity" both evinces and constitutes an existential "authenticity" whereby 

"woman" simultaneously discovers and enacts her free choice and agency — that 

is, if "doing" coincides existential "transcendence" — then such an "experience" 

would be aporetic in de Beauvoir's schema. Marx's formula "they know not 

what they do, but still they do it" indicates the problem: if not only action or 

doing, but also a concomitant awareness or knowledge, matters for de Beauvoir 

(one's awareness or knowing that one can and must change one's "situation"), 

then what of the conditions that predicate such an awareness or knowledge? 

How could one act or do, save by knowledge, and how could one know save by 

action or doing? Would they be coterminous, simultaneous? 

Even as she avers that "women of action [. . .] who know very well what 
goals they have in mind and who lucidly devise means for attaining them: their 
visions simply provide objective images for their certitudes, encouraging these 
women to persist in the paths they have mapped out in detail for themselves", 
de Beauvoir indicates a specific chronology whereby knowledge predicates 
action, awareness predicates doing (S£678 emphases mine). Representation 
comes afterward and does not, apparently, itself comprise part of women's 
experience for de Beauvoir. Doing, in other words, would not constitute 
knowing; experience would be anterior to subjectivity and not part of it. 
Women's active experiences would remain outside "ideology" not only by fiat of 
avoiding bad faith, but also by explicit awareness of what they do and why. 

Yet for Celie, given the determinations and mediations I indicate above, 
de Beauvoir's categories remain ambiguous. Celie writes, ostensibly, in response 
to the anonymous injunction that heads the text; as we have seen, Nettie gives a 
different version of Celie's motives, based on how Celie represented her writing 
to Nettie. Celie's rationale for her letters does not necessarily propose a 
trajectory or purpose: "I remember one time you said your life made you feel so 
ashamed you couldn't even talk about it to God, you had to write it* (136). 

Rather, Celie responds to an unknowable excess that engages the further excess 

of her own writing. 10 


Celie includes in her narrative representations of other female characters' 
lives. Of these, Celie illustrates through Shug variant negotiations of (negative) 
ideological mystification. Within the boundary of Celie's narrative, in that what 
we perceive of Shug is determined by Celie's own narrative strategies, Shug, 
theorizes a plural strategy that mediates the elements of knowledge, experience 
and representation in their relation as ideology. She evinces evinces an 
awareness of what she does, or of what she knows, as permutations of puissance 
as a resistant analogue to ideology. 

Of the women in the novel, Shug Avery perhaps most directly influences 
Celie. It is not simply a matter of Shug having experienced more, or differently, 
than has Celie. Rather, what Shug has done with her experiences and their 
resulting knowledges offers Celie resistant alternatives to conventional 
epistemologies. Through Shug, Celie learns the possibilities for love between 
women as a removal from phallic sexual economy. Celie also comes to a theory 
of ideology and interpellation through conversation with Shug. 

While not reductively restricted to sex, Shug's puissance is most explicitly 
sexual. Celie indicates to Shug not only her indifference to sex with Albert, but 
also the degradation which Albert imposes on her through sex. Celie has never 
enjoyed sex; because her sexual activity has been utterly determined by men 
within chauvinist parameters she has never experienced orgasm. More than at 
Celie's sexual inexperience, Shug is amazed that Celie accepts these 
circumstances. She immediately educates Celie in clitoral stimulation and other 

10 What this point does not yet address, and what I cannot address within the scope of this 
project, is the odd placement of the injunction: inside the frame of the novel, but outside Celie's 
letters. Celie has similarly-placed narrative statements that preface Nettie's letters, yet 
these do not follow the narrative precedent of the initial injunction. My earlier comments on De 
Beauvoir, Irigaray and Spivak's working of inside/ outside in terms of bad faith or ideology 
may help us negotiate these inexplicable elements of Walker's novel. 

masturbation methods. Convincing Celie to familiarize herself with the anatomy 

of her vagina by way of a mirror, Shug suggests to Celie "[i]t a lot prettier than 

you thought, ain't it" (££ 82). Shug unworks the sexual self-knowledge imposed 

on Celie by her circumstances, realizing by initiation the positive sense of 

mystification as that which can be known but from which one has been alienated. 

Because she uses a contraceptive sponge, Shug herself still enjoys sex with Albert 

without fear of pregnancy. Shug and Celie both now have means by which to 

enjoy puissance in the sense of sexual pleasure in excess of reproduction or male 


This experience effects a new knowledge of sexuality for Celie, 
particularly as awareness of what she does not know. When Celie later tells Shug 
that no one had ever loved her, Shug replies that she loves Celie. Then she kisses 
Celie. When Celie kisses Shug back, she says aloud "I don't know nothing bout 
it"_presumably, she refers to being loved (118). Shug and Celie then comfort 
each other sexually before Albert and Grady return, drunk. This scene prefigures 
that of Shug and Celie discovering that Albert has for years hidden Nettie's 
letters to Celie. Shug has asked Celie to tell her about Nettie, "cause she the only 
one you ever love [. . .] sides me" (123). Shug resumes her association with 
Albert as a means to discover Nettie's letters. When Celie reads Nettie's letters, 
she gains access to comfort outside Albert's control. Yet she could only gain that 
access through Shug. 

To discover whether Albert indeed has Nettie's letters as she suspects, and 
to then gain access to them for Celie, Shug resumes her affair with Albert with 
gusto. She deliberately mimics Albert's ideal of herself. Yet rather than, as 
Irigaray would have it, mimicking this ideal in order to escape or resist a phallic 
economy, Shug does so to use Albert's self-identification schema against him and 
gain Celie access to yet another woman's writing. She knows what she does, and 

that she does it, with a deliberacy that gives the lie to bad faith. Her effort affords 

Celie the means to negotiate the terms of the sex economy in which she remains. 

Shug's own awareness of the workings of ideology, which imply an 
awareness of ideology itself as a phenomenon, informs this effort on Celie' s 
behalf. She discusses with Celie conventional, that is White, conceptions and 
representations of God imposed on Black populations (ironically, the very 
enterprise upon which Celie's sister Nettie has embarked in Africa, of whose she 
remains incognizant even as she witnesses the displacement of the Olinka people 
by the white colonists whose religion Nettie espouses). Shug identifies racist 
ideological penetration of black churches when she notes that Celie's 
conventional Euro-Christian description of God — "He big and old and tall and 
graybearded and white" — is no more than "the one in the white folks' bible" (CP 
201). She critiques white-institutionalized determination of black knowledge of 
God: "How come he look just like them, then? [. . .] Only bigger? [. . .] How 
come the bible just like everything else they make, all about them doing one 
thing and another, and all colored folks is doing is getting cursed? [ . . .] Ain't no 
way to read the bible and not think God white" (202). Yet Shug also notes the 
hegemonic complicity of blacks in this schema. When Celie states that "in the 
bible it say Jesus' hair like lamb's wool," Shug replies "well, if he came to any of 
these churches we talking bout he'd have to have it conked before anybody paid 
him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think about they God is his hair 
kinky" (202). 

Shug extends this illustration to masculist determinations of self. She turns 
to the material means and signifiers by which ideology interpellates: "Man 
corrupt everything [. . .] He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the 
radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he 
everywhere, you think he God. But he ain't" (204). More than an espousal of 
nature-religion, Shug initiates Celie in ways of creating particular interference- 

fields to paradoxically disrupt the disjuncture between knowledge and 

experience. Sling's suggestion of turning to nature rather than conventional 

religion does not aver a simple change of signifiers. It depends on the equal 

valuation of specific signifiers: "white," "God," "Man," "He," "he." Instead, 

through the evincing of God everywhere without centre, gender, or attribute, 

Shug explodes the ideological boundaries circumscribed by conventional 

Christianity, anti-black racism, and sexism. Yet Celie realizes that such an 

operation does not change the material circumstances from within which one 

performs the operation and that one cannot ignore that materiality. Instead, she 

thinks in terms of negotiation: "Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. 

Next to any little scrub of bush in my yard, [Albert's] evil sort of shrink. But not 

altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before 

you can see anything a' tall" (204 emphasis mine). 


One particular instance of Celie's writing illustrates just such a negotiation, 

working with an unknowable excess through language otherwise insufficient to 

the task. In it, Celie focuses deeply into an experience through her manipulation 

of both grammar and imagery, spanning two synchronous and related, but 

irreducible codes. Her writing itself performs and constates a puissance that 

resides in neither the experience she describes through the writing, nor in the 

writing itself, but as a result of the interaction of the two. The text that Celie 

produces becomes, in Spivak's terms, the "condition and effect" of the puissant 

knowledge she evinces that, arising in response to her own penetration by and 

ventriloquy of phallic sexual discourses, remains irreducible to and indeed 

escapes those contexts. The instance becomes not simply a matter of Celie's 

knowing, nor of her representation of both that knowledge and the experience 

of it. It also mediates the elements that would otherwise comprise the disjuncture 

of her knowledge and her experience. 

Early in the novel, Celie experiences confusion at her knowledge of her 

husband Albert and the singer Shug Avery's love for each other, synchronous 
with Celie's own love for Shug. At her stepson Harpo's bar, Celie hears, for the 
first time, Shug singing. Her experience of her love for Shug conflicts with her 
interpellation by the patriarchal and heterosexist ideologies within which she was 
raised. Celie sits in the bar watching Albert watch Shug; she also watches Shug 
herself. Despondent, Celie thinks "I'm confuse./ [Albert] love looking at Shug. I 
love looking at Shug./ But Shug don't love looking at but one of us. Him./ But 
that the way it spose to be./ But if that so, why my heart hurt me so?" (77). Celie 
feels bound to Albert in response to the ideological conventions of male- 
identified realtions. Her situation, apparently, can only be summarized by 
variations of "thaf s how it spose to be." 

The day after Harpo and his young wife Sofia have a brutal fight, Celie 
visits Sofia. The young woman complains to Celie of Harpo's insensitive 
treatment of her. Sofia complains mostly of Harpo's conviction of his superiority 
through her sexual availability. Celie dubiously consoles Sofia by telling her "[h]e 
your husband [. . .] Got to stay with him" (69). When Sofia replies by telling Celie 
of Harpo's foisting his sexual attention and himself on her despite both her 
protests and her indifference, Celie counters "[s]leep on it, maybe it come back" 
(69). Celie then admits to herself "I say this just to be saying something. I don't 
know nothing bout if (69). The proximity of these two thoughts evinces Celie's 
growing awareness of her own possibilities for agency within her situation. 

Celie's admission in the first thought ("I say this just to be saying 
something") marks her awareness of her own platitude ("[s]leep on it, maybe it 
come back"). Yet the conventionality of the phrasing of her admission in this 
case effects an ambivalent double gesture. On the one hand, Celie's statement "I 
say this just to be saying something" serves the masculist sexual economy that 
she and Sofia both bemoan. She says what her situation needs saying in order to 

maintain itself. Effectively, her and Sofia's shared real conditions of existence 

speak through Celie. She emits an immaterial sound whose material effect would 

be to keep Sofia with Harpo. On the other hand, but by the same token, Celie 

remains aware that she utters the platitude in response to the otherwise 

inexplicable need to "say something." Internally, she recognizes her gesture as 

mostly hollow. The platitude remains empty, but her need to say "something" 

responds to an intangible element that neither her statement nor the need to 

make it entirely encompass. This part of the statement remains simultaneously 

and paradoxically ideological and puissant. 

Celie's second statement "I don't know nothing bout it" indicates, 
concurrently, that she does not participate in the sentiment of the first statement, 
and that she sympathizes with Sofia, since her own sexual relations with Albert 
comprise much the same as Sofia and Harpo's. Yet "I don't know nothing bout 
it" also signals Celie's knowledge of the previous statement as a platitude in 
service of a masculist, sexist program. But if she knows that she "don't know 
nothing bout it," then why make the prior statement? Why commit the verbal 
act but internalize the negation? The proximity of "I say this just to be saying 
something" and "I don't know nothing bout it" constitutes an "aporetic 
moment" in Spivak's terms. Whatever logic that seems to connect these two 
thoughts breaks down. The thoughts, upon close reading, actually have nothing 
to do with each other. Neither statement anticipates, responds to, or results from 
the other within the given context. Yet they remain contiguous, and indicate a 
meaning beyond the capacity for either alone to encompass. Celie here performs 
the very disjuncture that her thoughts constate. 

Yet even this point holds only until we realize that, given the novel's 
epistolary frame, Celie records her spoken platitude to Sofia, and her own 
aportetic thoughts around it, in a letter to God. She represents not only her 
knowledge of the disjuncture that she performs and constates through both her 

platitude to Sofia and her own thought. Nor does she represent, only apparently 

unwittingly, the aporia that results from the mutual interference field created 

between these contiguous but utterly distinct thoughts. She also, through her 

reporting, her representing, of this incident to God, brings the spoken and 

unspoken together in the text of her letters. On the page, Celie records this 

incident post-facto. By providing both her spoken platitude to Sofia, the platitude 

now literally re-presented (Darstellen and Vertreten, depicted through and 

substituted with script-text), and her own unspoken thoughts upon having made 

the prior utterance which also re-presents in material script what otherwise 

would have remained an immaterial experience of thought, Celie deliberately 

sets each on the same conceptual and representational plane. By representing 

them in her letter, she lets God know them. Yet there is no evidence out of the 

same text that Celie herself yet formulates a knowledge through this very act of 


There is evidence, however, that Celie is aware of something beyond the 

masculist ideology that ostensibly speaks through her platitude. After "I don't 

know nothing bout it," Celie states 

Mr. clam on top of me, do his business, in ten minutes us both sleep. 

Only time I feel something stirring down there is when I think bout Shug. 
And that like running to the end of the road and it turn back on itself. (69) 

Upon reflection of Albert's clumsy and selfish sexual performance — the kind that 
Celie's platitude to Sofia condones tacitly if not explicitly — Celie represents her 
sensation at thinking about Shug. Before Shug sings to her in Harpo's bar, Celie 
knows the love she has for Shug only in terms of bodily sensation at the thought 
of her. The phrase "[a]nd that like running to the end of the road and it turn back 
on itself" thus accommodates multiple, simultaneous, jouissant possibilities (69 
emphasis mine). Grammatically, to what element in her sentence does the 
pronoun "that" refer? What is "like running to the end of the road and it turn 
back on itself"? The feeling she has "down there" when she thinks of Shug? the 


thought of Shug itself? Or the very realization she comes to there on the page as 
she describes her thought? 11 

Her image of "the end of the road and it turn back on itself" remains 
equally ambiguous. Given its contiguous referentiality to Shug, the image 
accommodates an easy invocation oi puissance in the sexual sense. If so, then how 
is such an experience "like" running to the end of the road and it turning back on 
itself? The analogy that Celie provides, in that it proposes an impossible event to 
explain an apparently inexplicable sensation,constitutes a mystic act in the sense 
of trying not only to explain the unrepresentable, but also representing one's 
knowledge of that experience as unrepresentable while synchronously evincing a 
knowledge of the experience in itself. Celie describes an enormously complex 
series of aporia, knowledges, and experiences through an equally intricate 
manipulation of representational elements of grammar and imagery. 

By her textual lucubration, Celie attests to and performs experiences 
puissant in their impermeability to representation. She also works toward a 
certain knowledge of those experiences, a knowledge for which conventional 
language appears insufficient. In doing so by writing letters to God, Celie also 
represents the effort of formulating such a knowledge. She has a knowledge, but 
it is in puissance that it escapes the very language through which she tries to 
formulate it. And yet such qualifies as an escape only if one applies customary 
linguistic rubrics to the language she does use, and the way she uses it (as I have 
done here, after a fashion, in order to trope Celie for my own ends as an 
illustration). Celie's language suggests the possibility of an understanding of her 
experience, where, in another kind of or understanding of language, one might 
partake of something similar that can be known only by experiencing it. 

11 That element never leaves Walker's novel: what to make of the letters as detailed post-facto 
recollections within the frame of the novel? Other epistolary works foreground the after-the- 
factness of their constituent letters based on the particular implication of a referent-recipient. 
We may surmise that Celie's letters to God are never actually delivered, any more than those 
she eventually writes to Nettie. Yet her later letters to God, before she stops writing them, 
become equally detailed. 

That Celie addresses this complex work to God heightens the ambivalence 

of her writing. As much as this singular address would seem to limit the scope of 

Celie's scriptural puissant gesture, the content of that gesture just as effectively 

disrupts any surety of the elements of text and material, or knowledge and 

experience. It is an inner voyage taken by someone, as framed by Walker's 

novel, limited in language by racist, classist, phallic discourse, alienated from 

herself by those same discourses. Celie's letters comprise intricate meditations 

on, and evince a complex knowledge of her experience of, the ideologies that 

would otherwise disjoin her knowledge and experience. 

By a serendipitous turn, Celie and Shug's particular negotiations of 

ideology in The Color Purple thus bring us back to the matter of the entire 

discourse around the figure of the mystic: intuition and experience of something 

outside or obfuscated by the disjuncture between knowledge and experience 

perpetrated by phallic mediations of those elements. They negotiate those 

elements through puissant sexual, textual, representational and narrative 

strategies. Those same strategies also redefine the status of the subaltern in 

Spivak's sense. If they "cannot speak" because they are not heard, they then 

speak "otherwise," of and in an economy synchronous with the phallic, to each 

other. Yet rather than envision "the intransitivity of puissance as an anarchist 

nirvana" Celie instead realizes puissance as a means of active negotiation that 

gives the lie to dialectics and rhetorics of inside /outside (DM 40). 


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Nick Melczarek was born in Bradenton, Honda, in 1966 to twice- 
immigrated parents Jan and Hendrika Melczarek. His siblings Robert, Hugo, and 
Janey are from Brisbane, Australia. He grew up in the Anna Maria, Longboat 
Key, and Tampa Bay areas, and travelled extensively with his father throughout 
Europe in his youth. He earned an A.A. from Manatee Community College, and 
a B.A. in English from the University of South Florida at Sarasota. He moved to 
Tampa to earn his M.A. in English at the University of South Horida main 
campus, and wrote his thesis on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses . At USF he 
became interested in feminist politics and theory. He and his fiancee Tina Mader 
then moved to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, while Nick studied and worked at Kent 
State University. One year later they moved to Gainesville, Horida, where Nick 
pursued doctoral study at the University of Horida. During his doctoral studies, 
he and Tina married in Paris. Nick earned his Ph.D. in English at UF, working in 
French and Postcolonial feminisms, poststructuralisrrt, Twentieth-Century British 
and American literature, and literature by women of color. He taught the whole 
way through. 


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope 
and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

ImIujL c xAjJIk 

Malini Schueller, Chair 
Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope 
and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Stephanie Smith 

Associate Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope 
and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Associate Professdfof English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope 
and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Louise Newman 

Associate Professor of History 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope 
and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 


Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan 
Professor of English, University of 
Massachusetts, Amherst 

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the 
Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the 
Graduate School and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for 
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 
May 2003 

Dean, Graduate School 



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